With less than 72 hours to pivot, Owatonna bars and restaurants are rushing to deplete their beer inventory before they lock their doors for the one month beginning Friday night.
As Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases continue to surge, Gov. Tim Walz has rolled out new restrictions intended to stem the “uncontrolled community spread” of the disease over the next four weeks. Most prominently, the state is telling Minnesotans not to gather with anyone outside of their immediate household, just a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. In addition, however, indoor and outdoor dining will be prohibited, limiting restaurants and bars to takeout service only.
For local bars that don’t have a kitchen service, this means effectively shutting down on the cusp of the holiday season.
“It felt defeating, we were already shut down for three months before,” said Garret Jeddeloh, a bartender at Reggie’s Brewhouse in Owatonna. “Finding out we have to shut down again, and so close to the holidays, it’s hard – making sure you have all your ducks in a row and that you’re able to pay all your bills and still be able to do the holidays – everything is a little stressful.”
Since Wednesday night, Reggie’s is one of several establishments in town that is slashing prices on beer in an attempt to drain the tapped kegs before the new restrictions go into effect. While they have elected to go with $2 for all beer – tap or bottle – other places such as the Owatonna American Legion and Torey’s Restaurant and Bar are offering 2-4-1 deals on tap beer. The goal is simple – sell what they can to avoid product going bad.
“With bottled beer in cases, if the cases are unopen we are able to sell them back to the distributor and they can take them back and sell them to liquor stores,” Jeddeloh said, adding that most bars sold back unopened inventory to their beer and liquor distributors during the spring shutdown as well. “Once a keg is tapped, though, it’s tapped. That was a big issue in the spring where most bars do a keg of green beer for St. Patrick’s Day – you don’t want to see green beer being poured in August.”
Preparing for the shutdown, Jeddeloh said he is pleased to find that customers are being nothing but supportive of the industry he’s a part of. Following the governor’s announcement Wednesday night, he said the bar stayed relatively busy yet emotionally low key.
“There are a good amount of people who don’t agree with what is going on and have their own theories about masks and COVID in general, but for the most part people are pretty cool about everything,” Jeddeloh said. “We didn’t have to argue with too many people, so that’s always good, and I would say for the most part people were a little more generous than usual. We definitely saw a lot more generosity than we didn’t, so it worked out in the end in the positive for us all.”
During the first night of attempting to sell off their inventory, Jeddeloh said the bar finished off one of their many kegs they are trying to burn through.
“One down, only 12 to go,” he laughed.
Winter took a break for the afternoon as three families came together for the first time, celebrating new beginnings for two as a means to an end for the one.
For three generations, a plot of land just down the road from Morehouse Park has been owned and maintained by the Kottke family. Starting with Carl Kottke, the founder of the 100-plus-year-old Kottke Jewelers in downtown Owatonna, the land between Mosher and Lynn avenues has simply been laying around.
“There were some homes down there once upon a time, Mrs. Mosher used to live down there at the bottom of what was referred to as Cinder Hill that the kids would play on,” said Matt Kottke, grandson of Carl and current owner of the family store. “I remember my brothers and I used to mow the yards down there as little kids. A lot of kids used to play down there, it wasn’t that far of a hike from the park to go over to that corner and just hang out.”
The land was passed down from Kottke’s grandfather to his father, Bill Kottke, and eventually was left to the four Kottke children: Matt, Michelle, Mark, and Marty. Matt Kottke said following the death of his father, the siblings came together to discuss what they could do with the unused property sitting alone in town.
“It has always been an unwritten motto of our family to pay it forward,” Kottke said. “When we were discussing what to do with the property, the idea to donate the land to Habitat for Humanity came up and everyone just sort of nodded their head and said – wow, if you can make it work, let’s do it!”
After a series of back and forth communication with Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity, which serves Steele, Dodge, Olmsted, Wabasha and Waseca counties, the Kottke family agreed to donate the land to the nonprofit organization so that another family could benefit from it. Thanks to a partnership with the city, the property was able to be divided into two separate lots that will serve two different families.
“It was very heartwarming to hear we would be able to benefit two families,” Kottke said. “I wish I could see my father and grandfather smile – they would definitely be very touched by this. This is exactly the type of thing that they would have wanted for that property.”
Kottke said Owatonna was – and continues to be – very important to his family, adding that the late patriarchs of the family were especially proud of their community. Kottke said he also remembers his father discussing Habitat for Humanity before his death, stating he felt the organization did “really nice work” for people in need.
“When we have an opportunity to help others, everybody wins,” Kottke said. “The family wins, the community wins, and it just speaks so strongly to what a wonderful community we have.”
A formal lot dedication took place on Thursday afternoon, with the families selected to be recipients of the new homes present to do the ceremonial groundbreaking. A single father of three from Owatonna will be the home owner of soon-to-be 716 Lynn Avenue, sponsored largely by Daikin Applied and Climate by Design International. Daikin committed to a $75,000 donation, which will be added to the $25,000 donation from CDI to make the project possible. A second family from Oronoco will be the owners of 715 Mosher Avenue, which will be sponsored by Thrivent Financial, who recently committed to a $95,000 donation toward the project.
Schools across Steele County have been using their various pots of COVID-19 relief funds to help students, families and staff make it through the pandemic. Federal, state and local funds have allowed districts to purchase and be reimbursed for COVID-19 related expenses.
Minnesota schools requested $256 million from the $150 billion allocated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for state and local governments, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. A large portion of that, about $244.8 million, has gone to addressing operational costs and supporting students, families and educators needs.
The Owatonna school district received $1.4 million while the Medford and Blooming Prairie school districts received $232,181 and $187,930, respectively. While there are some guidelines and criteria for spending, Steele County schools are mostly using the funds to equip students for distance learning. The funds can be used until Dec. 30 and the Owatonna district has already spent its funds.
“Along with the additional expense of cleaning and disinfecting materials, as well as PPE and the additional technology that we had to purchase to pursue the way we have to do teaching now, it depleted those funds very quickly,” Owatonna Superintendent Jeff Elstad said.
Amanda Heilman, the director of finance and operations for the Owatonna district, said the relief funds were spent on a number of items, including extra educational assistant staffing for hybrid learning, extra School Age Care staff for smaller student groups and district substitutes.
Technology updates were another major expense for the district. Owatonna has purchased Chromebooks, instructional supplies, hotspots and computer monitors to support hybrid and distance learning.
“We learned last spring that even though a number of families were able to find a device to use, this just allowed us some additional options with teaching to have everyone given a device,” Elstad said.
Other expenses include Bipolar Ionization Units for HVAC systems, personal protective equipment supplies and extra bussing costs as a result of the hybrid model restrictions causing an extra tier of bussing to be needed.
The Medford school district is also spending a good chunk of its money on technology, about $15,000 for laptops and $13,000 for iPads, Superintendent Mark Ristau said. The district has purchased additional monitors for teachers teaching in the hybrid model, dropping about $4,300 on those upgrades. Additionally, the district purchased hotspots to provide to families who don’t have Wi-fi.
“We are kind of coming up with criteria for who qualifies to get a hotspot and then we’ll get them the hotspot before (distance learning) begins,” Ristau said at Monday’s school board meeting. The school will continue to pay $28 per month to use the hotspots, which will be paid with CARES funds.
An auto scrubber, nursing supplies and payroll for extra staffing are among the other expenses.
On Monday, Ristau announced the district received $13,000 in COVID-19 relief funds from the city of Medford. The district had requested the amount to reimburse the schools for the purchase of additional technology for distance learning.
“It’s probably going to go towards laptops and some other devices for staff and students,” Ristau said, adding that they are looking at purchasing some additional monitors still.
At Monday’s Blooming Prairie School Board meeting, Superintendent Chris Staloch discussed said the district received about $29,500 from Steele County and $4,500 from Mower County.
“A lot of those funds are going towards technology enhancements,” Staloch said.
Technology upgrades are mainly targeted for the elementary school. Currently classrooms have Promethean interactive boards, but the district is switching to big screen TVs with an Apple TV Box and iPads. Staloch says the upgrade provides a more efficient way for teachers to communicate with students whether they’re in person or distance learning.
Westfield Township also donated $5,000 to the Blooming Prairie school district to update the HVAC system to improve the air quality.