Former St. Cloud costume shop owner who 'touched so many lives' remembered for creative spirit

Michael Anderson, 64, died Nov. 8

A man wearing a costume.
Michael Anderson wears one of his costume creations. Anderson was an aspiring actor, who majored in English and theater lighting in college. He died on Nov. 8 in South Dakota due to complications of COVID-19.
Courtesy of the Anderson family

Through conversations with their family members, colleagues and close friends, MPR News is remembering the lives of the people we’ve lost, too soon, to COVID-19. If you’d like to share the story of someone you’ve lost to COVID-19, please email us at tell@mpr.org.


Michael Anderson's costume shop wasn't so much a store as it was an escape into a world of imagination and make-believe.

For more than three decades, Invincible Costume and Theatrical Co. in downtown St. Cloud was the place to go for anyone involved in theater, or who needed the perfect ensemble for Halloween or a special event.

A man in military uniform.
Michael Anderson served in the U.S. Air Force.
Courtesy of the Anderson family

Anderson died on Nov. 8 in South Dakota at age 64 due to complications of COVID-19. His death came as a shock to those in central Minnesota who remembered his creative spirit, kind heart and passion for the performing arts.

"If you were in a theater performance or anything on stage, you really either knew Michael personally, or you had worn one of his costumes,” said Justin Lewandowski, who first met Anderson as a high school theater student, and now lives in St. Paul.

Anderson served in the U.S. Air Force and was an aspiring actor, who majored in English and theater lighting in college. He started working at Invincible Costume in the 1990s. Eventually, he bought the business from its previous owner, and made it his own.

Entering the jam-packed shop on St. Germain Street was an experience most people didn't forget.

"It was just this vastness of costumes,” said Dan Barth, former owner of Pioneer Place on Fifth, a St. Cloud theater. “I mean, everything that you can think of. And then in the basement — and the basement of the building next door — were another [5,000] or 6,000 costumes."

A man wearing a knight costume.
Michael Anderson wears one of his costume creations. Anderson owned Invincible Costume and Theatrical Co., a costume shop in downtown St. Cloud, Minn.
Courtesy of the Anderson family

Anderson began supplying costumes for all of Pioneer Place's shows. Barth said he had a knack for finding the perfect costume for any role, no matter how strange or obscure — even the time Barth needed a giant marshmallow costume for a holiday show.

"He had a memory that was incredible,” Barth said. “It's like he could say, ‘Oh, I've got that.’ And then off he'd go. Then he'd be back in two minutes with exactly what I was looking for. And I was like, ‘How in the world?’ ”

The shop was “very eclectic, very full,” said Patricia Soltis of St. Cloud, who has acted in local theater productions for the past 30 years.

“You could just tell, there were a lot of great memories that were being built from there,” Soltis said.

Anderson's shop provided costumes for theater companies and high schools across Minnesota and the country, as well as in the St. Cloud area.

"The man had an incredible imagination, and could make masterpiece costumes out of literally things he found. He was amazing,” said Linda McGowan, a theater coach at St. Cloud's Apollo High School, who also has acted in and directed local productions.

McGowan recalled one of her favorite Anderson creations, a gold-colored Renaissance ball gown that she called “breathtaking.”

Anderson fashioned and sewed most of his costumes himself from various materials including cloth, metal, leather and plastic, sometimes without a pattern. He would talk lovingly about his craft.

"I always remember when Michael would just say, ‘Do not return your costume late and do not damage it,’ ” Lewandowski said. “I always remember keeping that oath very sacred, because he really did — he loved all of these different pieces, and he also really loved to see them up on stage."

The costumes weren't only for theater. Anybody who attended a local costume ball or party probably found themselves in Anderson's shop at some point.

Anderson was also known helping those in need. He once made a costume for a young boy in the Make-a-Wish program, who wanted to go to Disney World as a prince, said his brother, Jeff.

"Michael created him the most perfect, beautiful, high-end prince costume you can imagine, and did not accept a dime for it," Jeff Anderson said.

In 2017, Invincible Costume suddenly closed, a loss for downtown St. Cloud.

It was also a blow to Michael, said Jeff Anderson, who lives in Harrisburg, S.D. He didn't share much, but had talked about how competition from internet sales and pop-up retail displays hurt unique, locally owned businesses like his.

"That was his life, and it was his persona, and it was the medium with which he expressed who Michael was,” Jeff Anderson said. 

Michael Anderson moved to Chamberlain, S.D., where he was working in a group home for people with special needs. His brother said he loved the work.

"He poured his life into it,” Jeff Anderson said. “I know that Michael realized and saw that we are all beautifully flawed, and the flaws aren't always outwardly visible."

His brother said Michael was a creator who was always pursuing new hobbies, including gardening, beekeeping and writing poetry. He was a doting uncle, a trivia buff and an avid baker who loved cake and plum pudding.

In late October, Michael Anderson, who was diabetic, was diagnosed with COVID-19. After a few days in the hospital, he returned home and seemed to be recovering. He died suddenly on Nov. 8.

News of his death hit St. Cloud's theater community hard during an already difficult time, when the pandemic has put most live performances on hold, and gathering in person for a large funeral or memorial isn't possible. His family and friends have been sharing memories on social media.

Michael Anderson was “somebody who touched so many lives,” and his death shows the ripple effects of the pandemic, Lewandowski said.

“He built this community around him through his love of his craft,” Lewandowski said. “I think it really speaks to who he was, that so many folks really felt that loss."

Through conversations with their family members, colleagues and close friends, MPR News is remembering the lives of the people we’ve lost, too soon, to COVID-19. If you’d like to share the story of someone you’ve lost to COVID-19, please email us at tell@mpr.org.

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