Bugsy Sailor of the Upper Peninsula Supply Company
As a prolific photographer of Michigan sunrises, co-founder of the Fresh Coast Film Festival and creator of 906 Day and Plaidurday, Bugsy Sailor is spreading his love of the U.P. across the state and the globe
Bugsy Sailor says he’s the official Unofficial Ambassador of the Upper Peninsula, and while he’s still waiting on the paperwork, Bugsy is a lifelong Michigander worthy of the title.
From his Year of the Sunrise project that began as a resolution on New Year’s Day 2019 and continues to this day to founding unique events like 906 Day, Plaidurday and the Fresh Coast Film Festival, Bugsy celebrates the things that set Michigan – and the U.P. in particular – apart from anywhere else.
Years later, Bugsy continues to be inspired by his Marquette surroundings and creates opportunities for connection within the Upper Peninsula community and beyond.
What is your background growing up and living in Michigan?
I grew up in a town of 1,200 people in Baraga, so I was used to seeing Lake Superior every single day with the sunrise view facing east. I've always embraced growing up in the U.P., and then I left the Upper Peninsula and lived in Lansing while going to school at Michigan State.
When I got to the dorms my freshman year at MSU, there were as many people in my freshman dorms as the entirety of my hometown. I became a small number on MSU’s campus very quickly, but I loved that, and I embraced it. I loved the diversity I found in Lansing and East Lansing that I wasn't familiar with in Baraga. But it really kind of formed my adulthood with a lot of the things I got involved with while in Lansing, including the Capital City Film Festival, TEDxLansing, and going over to TEDxDetroit. I always wanted to see some of those bigger city events come back to the U.P., and all those things have now happened here in Marquette.
I completed two degree programs at Michigan State, sociology and advertising. The sociology component was kind of my fascination with the U.P. and loving niche populations; the Upper Peninsula is certainly that. And then the advertising degree has played into all of this in terms of trying to have prowess and some degree of marketing and getting things in front of people and grabbing attention. I then went into a career that was pretty much a little bit tied to advertising, but mostly web development and web design, and have always had all these side projects. I think entrepreneurship was always close to my heart and I finally just committed to go all in on entrepreneurship about six years ago.
What are some of the common beliefs or misconceptions about the U.P.?
One of the more farfetched ones is that we get around only by snowmobile in the winter, and things like that. But I think people are surprised now by the growth of Marquette – some of the venues that we have in terms of food venues feel like you're in any big city, so there's a lot to do. There's endless entertainment in Marquette and throughout the U.P. What's special is that it's truly a four-season place. There's something to do outdoors every season of the year.
How do you support the U.P. through your ambassadorship?
I love leaning into the role of Upper Peninsula Ambassador. I love teaching people about the U.P., answering all their questions, correcting everything they got wrong about the U.P. and have stepped into that role for a very long time now.
I guess I also have a fondness for creating days. Two of the big things I've done throughout the U.P. is create 906 Day over a decade ago, which is every September 6, or 906. That's to celebrate the area code across the Upper Peninsula, so it’s just a fun way to celebrate the region. And while it started with the business here, I tried to encourage other businesses and other people to find their own way to celebrate 906 Day, whether it be eating a pasty that day, taking a sauna, or taking a dip in Lake Superior. It's really been embraced and what I particularly love is that the legislature and several statewide organizations have been acknowledging 906 Day across the entirety of Michigan and not just the U.P.
Plaidurday is another day on the calendar. It's the first Friday of every October to try and encourage as many people in the world as possible to wear plaid. Of course, it's very Michigan-centric. It was born in Lansing out of my Upper Peninsula heritage, I suppose inspired by all the buffalo plaid I'd seen my dad wear growing up. But the community aspect is awesome. It's on a Friday intentionally so people can take advantage of casual Friday, classrooms can participate. The long-standing tradition is I try to organize a big group photo with as many people as possible. And now between Marquette and Ironwood, we're kind of in this rivalry with the headquarters of Stormy Kromer and my friend Gina over there to see who can get more people in their photo, Ironwood or Marquette. They've edged us out the last couple of years, but it's been a really fun rivalry. Just to get people to wear plaid, it's a low barrier to entry to participate and it doesn't really have an agenda behind it other than to just make people smile and do something fun.
What inspired you to become involved with founding the Capital City Film Festival?
I'm passionate about community, and I know through film and through storytelling, it's a great avenue to build community. Through Fresh Coast Film Festival, we've had an awesome opportunity to do that. We love telling stories that are local to the Great Lakes region, local to the U.P., but then we love bringing in content from coast to coast as well and exposing content and stories to people that they might not otherwise see. It's been amazing so far; we have an incredible team that is very capable, and we have a lot of visions for what this festival can be in the years to come.
All your pursuits have a common thread of creation and connection.
If there's if there's one theme throughout my career and projects, it’s taking an idea and pressing it and pushing it as far as I can. I lose a lot of sleep if I'm not actively working on an idea, trying to achieve something with that. But I don't want to take sunrise or plaid and just do a small snippet of it. I want to expand on that idea as much as I can and push the envelope as much as possible.
What’s it like for business owners and visitors to Marquette?
I love visiting with everybody coming through town. This past summer we had a couple from South Africa, a couple from Switzerland, women from Finland. I always love hearing their stories of what brings them to the U.P. and Marquette, whether it's through family history, or just a place they found on the map, or what their curiosities are, and I love answering all their questions.
As a business, having a downtown Marquette business is fantastic. There's so much support from the community, and a lot of involvement. Anytime we want to put on events, the local news is happy to participate, and the downtown community is happy to participate. I think from my standpoint, if we take the example of Fresh Coast Film Festival, people have a very ‘yes’ attitude. If we have a grand idea, the general premise is like ‘yes, we want to do that.’ Then it's just a matter of, ‘okay, can we do that now? Is there someone who can take on this new task?’ But there's a very yes attitude in town to creating new events.