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New Prague Area Schools and Community Education pick up books from SMIF staff in Owatonna. (Photo courtesy of SMIF)

Owatonna Legion Post 77 center fielder Briley Highfield (11) gets gets a lead off on first base during Owatonna’s loss to Winona. (Stephen McDaniel/

Briley Highfield (Post 77)

Sterling Home announces closing plans due to COVID-19
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Throughout the years, Sterling Home has been a store known for it’s decor, friendly staff and welcoming atmosphere in various locations throughout Owatonna. The downtown location will be their last home, however, as the store is permanently closing its doors next month.

It was announced last week via social media that the store currently located in downtown Owatonna will be closing its doors Friday, Aug. 26. According to a Facebook post, the trials and tribulations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, construction projects and more were obstacles the store was simply unable to overcome.

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

After many decades in Owatonna, Sterling Home is officially closings its doors on Friday, Aug. 26, with the store citing pandemic woes as the driving force behind the decision. (Emily Kahnke/

For decades the store found its home in the Cedar Mall before moving to Hoffman Drive in 2007, where it operated as a gift store, pharmacy and gas station. After Kwik Trip purchased the location, the home decor store opened downtown in the former Perfect Day Cakes bakery location in November 2019.

“We’re heartbroken,” said Hellen Mrozek, assistant manager of Sterling Home. “It was a shock for us.”

Mrozek started her journey with the store while it was still in the Hoffman location. She said she was sad then when the store closed, but once she knew it was reopening downtown she immediately applied and has been the assistant manager ever since.

“I was always an avid shopper here, so it was just a joy to work here as well,” Mrozek said. “The emotions really arise. We all love the store and so do our customers, so it’s really sad to see it go.”

Lori Abbe started working at the store part-time in March of this year. Although she has only briefly been employed, she said the store became like a second home.

“I love working here,” she said. “It wasn’t even work for me, it’s been something I just love to do.”

Emily Kahnke / By EMILY KAHNKE 

Hellen Mrozek has been the assistant manager since the store opened downtown in Nov. of 2019. She also worked at the store when it was at the Hoffman location. She plans to stay with the store until closing day, and so far has no solid plans for what comes next for her. (Emily Kahnke/

As the self-described community outreach person, Abbe said she was brokenhearted to learn the store would be closing when the community is “finally thriving” after the hardships many businesses had throughout the pandemic.

“A lot of businesses didn’t make it through the pandemic and the economy, but we were hopeful with things getting back to normal that we would be in the clear,” Abbe said.

This is not the first downtown Owatonna business that has made the decision to close due to the pandemic. In April 2021, Kristi’s Clothing, a women’s apparel store, at 301 North Cedar Avenue permanently closed up shop after 24 years in business. Owner Kristi Larson stated the financial hit during the height of the pandemic was too much for the store to overcome.

Prior to Larson’s announcement, Spurgy’s Bar and Grill in Hope announced they would not be reopening last year due to the pandemic, but declined further public comment with the media. Party Plus Crafts in downtown Owatonna also closed in July 2020, but cited retirement as the primary reason for the owner’s decision.

Lisa Cochran, MainStreet Director for the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said the news of Sterling Home closing by the end of the summer came as a shock to everyone.

“It’s sad, we were so happy when they moved downtown and the space was gorgeous and perfect for them. Their product made it all the better — it was a great addition to downtown,” she said. “Once they added the home decorating aspect, it filled a niche that wasn’t filled before. It was great to have them and we are shocked to hear they were closing. It was a shock to all of us.”

As for the space, Cochran said the “wheels are turning” in regards to what will happen once Sterling moves out.

“The owner of Nick’s Pizza owns the building, so he will be involved in what happens,” she said. “But we will definitely help to fill it. It’s a great space, especially now that the 300 block is completed with construction and we as the chamber are driving people down there during events. It’s a great spot to have a business and it’s perfectly set up for retail, so I guess we will see what happens.”

President of Sterling Drug Sam Ewing could not be reached for comment.

The store has changed its hours and will be closing the doors on Friday, Aug. 26. Everything in the store will be 40% off until closing.

The second StoryWalk event hosted by the Owatonna Public Library drew 118 people to the West Hill Campus in June 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Owatonna Public Library)

Owatonna Summer StoryWalk

In Owatonna visit, Ettinger positions himself as more moderate DFL candidate for CD1

“I am pro-democracy, pro-rights and pro-opportunity, and I think our district would be better served by someone who is more balanced and has an open door.”

aharman / By ANNIE HARMAN 

Jeff Ettinger, who considers himself a moderate progressive and is the former CEO of Hormel, will appear on both the special election and the general election primary ballots on Aug. 9 for Minnesota’s First Congressional District. He visited Owatonna on Tuesday to meet with people he could potentially be representing. (Annie Harman/

That was the message Jeff Ettinger, former CEO of Hormel, wanted to get across to those he met Tuesday evening during a couple meet and greet events in Owatonna. Between one event at Owatonna Country Club hosted by two local couples and a second event at the Steele County History Center hosted by the Steele County DFL, Ettinger was able to interact with a variety of residents with differing political views.

But that is what he was hoping for, as he seeks support in his campaign to fill the vacant congressional seat left by the death of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn in February.

In May, Ettinger secured both the DFL endorsement in the upcoming special election and captured 64% of the DFL votes during the special election primary. Following what he calls a “gratifying” win, the political newcomer easily decided to throw his name on the ballot for the general election in November to represent Minnesota’s First Congressional District for a full term.

Ettinger’s opponent in the special election to fill out Hagedorn’s term is GOP candidate Brad Finstad, of New Ulm. He’ll also contest with DFLers George H. Kalberer and James Rainwater in the August primary election to secure his party’s nomination at the November general election.

“This is a purple district, and in the 30-plus years I’ve lived here I’ve seen it go back and forth,” Ettinger said of the political wins in District 1. “I’m more in the middle, and I think a more moderate candidate would be success here.”

The polarizing nature of today’s political culture is one of the main reasons Ettinger says he decided to throw his hat in the ring to represent southern Minnesota on the national level. In addition to being frustrated with what he considered to be a “lack of action” in Congress in recent years, Ettinger said he was “outraged” when Hagedorn choose not to certify the 2020 election.

“I think I can offer a very distinct, different perspective from a business and community leadership background,” Ettinger said, double-downing on his willingness to work across the aisle. “Our Senate is currently 50/50, and if that doesn’t tell you how divided our nation is and how important it is to find the middle ground, I don’t know what does. I believe what I can offer as someone who is not a career politician will bring much more effective change.”

Despite being openly moderate, including taking a more conservative approach to spending and business, local members of the DFL feel confident in Ettinger being the candidate on both the special and general election ballots.

“We need good representation in this congressional seat, and Jeff is very unassuming,” said Stephanie Shea, co-host of the Steele County DFL meet and greet. “I am happy with a moderate progressive, because really that’s what we have to go for.”

aharman / By ANNIE HARMAN 

Congressional candidate Jeff Ettinger (D-Austin) fields questions from locals Tuesday evening during a special meet and greet at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna, hosted by the Steele County DFL. Ettinger is running to fill the vacancy in Minnesota’s First Congressional District, left open following the death of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn in February. (Annie Harman/

Bev Cashman, chair of the Steele County DFL, echoed Shea’s remarks, adding that Ettinger, who lives in Austin, reminds her of former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny, who represented District 1 from 1983 to 1995 as a Democrat, but has since identified as an Independent.

“He is willing to cross over the middle, be reasonable, be visible and hold meetings to talk to anybody,” Cashman said. “[Jeff] did a lot of good during his time at Hormel, and since his retirement he has stayed active with his community service work. Sometimes I think people forget how down-to-earth candidates are, so it’s much easier to get interested in them and their campaign when you can meet them like this.”

During the Steele County DFL-sponsored event, Ettinger answered questions regarding climate change, child care, inflation and how he plans to secure more votes in conservative rural Minnesota. While he said he wants to see the federal government take a more active approach in addressing these concerns, specifically in regards to voter rights and the environment, he said the most important way to get any work done will be working together.

“We need to find more common solutions to begin the change,” Ettinger said, using the recent bipartisan-supported gun safety bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in June as an example. “A lot more could be done — but I am encouraged that something got done, and it will stick.”

Leaning into what he described as a willingness and ability to get things done, regardless of the political parties his potential colleagues belong to, Ettinger reiterated that turning Congress inaction into forward moving action will take place in the middle.

“We do not need to move backward, if we agree on some changes, in order to get something done,” Ettinger said. “We are a purple district, and I want to represent everyone.”