NORTH RIDGEVILLE

It is not even close to being the worst side effect of the current health crisis that seems to have no end in sight. Especially if you can’t see.

Anyone who wears eyeglasses while also wearing the presently requisite mask or face covering is familiar with the annoyance of having those eyeglasses fog up. And if you happen to be driving when the mist appears, or if you are an essential employee working with potentially dangerous equipment, the problem could evolve into something a lot worse than frustrating.

Although he does not wear eyeglasses himself, a friend pointed out the issue to North Ridgeville resident inventor Larry Nolan and owner of local company Versa-Flex Inc., who realized he could do something about the problem.

“It took me about a minute to figure out,” Nolan said. “Seriously, about a minute.”

His idea was to fog proof face masks. To do so, Nolan added a strip of Neoprene, a synthetic rubber, across the top of the mask, covering the nose and cheeks of the wearer. Why Neoprene?

“Because it works and I had rolls of it sitting around the shop,” Nolan said.

When tucked below the nosepiece of eyeglasses, the rubber prevents moisture created by breathing from escaping the top of a mask. Instead, most breath and moisture goes out the sides.

Nolan’s masks consist of three layers. The exterior is a cotton polyester blend. The center layer is a filler space, and a sort of mesh layer sitting closest to the face of the wearer absorbs excess moisture trapped inside and makes breathing easier.

All masks are handmade, sewn together by Versa-Flex employees. Nolan refuses to use foreign materials for several reasons. He said in the early 1990s he came up with a specialized bit of equipment for professional photographers and videographers. He claims the design quickly was stolen and is now mass produced in China. Nolan said he never made what could have been a considerable amount of money off his invention.

While the anti-fog masks now are probably his bestseller, inside his production facility on Root Road, Nolan spends most of his time inventing and designing bags and carrying cases for camera and film equipment.

He got involved with cameras and related equipment after spending just over 26 years working with the Cleveland Browns and NFL Films.

Other Versa Flex products include heat-retaining carrying bags for pizza delivery and seat cushions for national companies such as OfficeMax. His shop also produces election ballot bags that can be securely closed along with numerous other items.

“In a way, I’m a victim of my own success,” Nolan said, stating his pizza bags last for years, a situation that reduces sales of new bags

Nolan’s anti-fog masks are sold exclusively online. In July, he filed for a patent on the masks. He is still waiting for the final word on whether he will receive that patent.

Filing for a patent is not cheap, Nolan noted. He needed to hire a lawyer and pay various filing fees. Nolan adds his masks will have uses after the pandemic ends. For example, they should come in handy for scuba divers.

Nolan’s masks are embroidered with various designs. Some celebrate the North Ridgeville Rangers and other local school districts. A clearly proud Navy veteran, Nolan has masks with military insignias for every branch of the armed services.

Some masks are colored similarly to the shades that might appear on the uniforms of a local pro football team. None contain the copyrighted name of the team.

Nolan figures he has sold maybe 24,000 masks. After his story appeared on a local TV station, he sold 6,000 units in one night.

“This place was going nuts,” Nolan said, referring to his modest 24,000-square-foot facility. He proudly notes out of all his sales, only about 500 masks were returned.

At 64, Nolan has no plans to retire, stating he will “work until I expire.”

Nolan has lived in North Ridgeville for 20 years and has no plans to go anywhere else. His company arrived at its current location 15 years ago.

Embroidered masks cost between $16 and roughly $22. They are available at versa-flex.com and etsy.com/shop/Versaflex.

Contact this reporter at tcorrigan@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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