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(BP Girls Basketball) Bobbie Bruns

Blooming Prairie senior guard Bobbie Bruns (3) pulls up for a jumpshot against Medford. She recorded six points and nine assists for the Blossoms. (Stephen McDaniel/southernminn.com)


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Local retailers bounce back for the holiday shopping season
  • Updated

One way residents of southern Minnesota show love for their small towns during the holiday season is by shopping local. After an especially challenging two years for retailers, many small business owners in the region said things this year are on the up and up.

Jodi Jendrysik, owner of Lilly and Rose Boutique in Owatonna, said sales are much steadier this year than last year. She attributes a lot of it to a renewed comfort spending time indoors.

Julian Hast / By JULIAN HAST julian.hast@apgsomn.com 

Jodi Jendrysik, owner of Lilly and Rose Boutique in Owatonna, says sales have improved since last year’s holiday shopping season. Like other small business owners, she attributed the improvement to customers’ increasing comfort spending time indoors amid the ongoing pandemic. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

“There was still a lot of fear last year,” Jendrysik said. “It’s a way different ball game this year … I feel like people are just happy. We’re trying to find a reason to celebrate.”

Shop owners in Faribault, Waseca, Northfield, St. Peter and Le Sueur all agree — the 2021 holiday shopping season is a step back toward “normal.”

Of course, things have not been entirely normal this year — at least, relative to how retail used to operate before the pandemic. For instance, Jendrysik didn’t used to have to constantly order small batches of products far ahead of time. But now, with the pandemic’s disruption to the global supply chain taking much longer than anticipated to sort itself out, it’s a necessity.

Last year was also Jendrysik’s first year in Owatonna, making it her boutique’s first holiday season in town. Despite all the pain of the pandemic, she said, she was touched by the way some Owatonna businesses have maps in their stores pointing out where other local businesses are. Rather than competing, she said, they’d decided to support one another.

“It’s a pretty beautiful thing when the downtown businesses encourage each other,” she said. “Literally every sale counts when you own a small business.”

For Deb Bauernfeind, owner of Faribault’s Weddings by Deb, a bridal shop which also caters to proms, school dances and other events, the global supply chain disruption has been oddly beneficial for her business. This is because many customers have resorted to rentals to get the sizes and types of clothes they need when there’s so little availability in the traditional clothing market.

Weddings by Deb owner Deb Bauernfeind, pictured in this April 2019 file photo, said she’s seen more business as more in-person formal events like school dances take place and wedding plans previously put on pause due to COVID-19 are now going forward in advance of warmer months. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Beyond the idiosyncrasies of owning a rental business, though, Bauernfeind described a similar phenomenon as Jendrysik of customers resuming normal activities put on hold the previous holiday season. While there aren’t a whole lot of winter weddings in Minnesota, she said, postponed plans for weddings this year among her customers seem to be going forward for next year.

Of course, as a local business owner subject to the whims of global forces, she’s happy her community is deciding to bring their business back to her local shop.

“We’re fortunate to have Owatonna, Faribault, all of us so close and we can bounce off each other and really create a good customer rapport,” Bauernfeind said.

Indeed, Tamie Collins, owner of Zinnias Boutique in Waseca, said she thinks sales have been much better for her this year because people are conscientious of small businesses having been hit hard by COVID-19. While canceled and delayed shipments, among other pandemic-related issues, have certainly made things difficult, she said the community’s generosity and increased comfort shopping in-person have made this a successful holiday season so far for her business.

Zinnias owner Tamie Collins, seen in front of her shop in this March file photo, said the community’s generosity and increased comfort shopping in-person have been beneficial for her business this holiday shopping season. (File photo/southernminn.com)

“I’ve seen this trend actually the last few years — shopping small, shopping local, just supporting your small-town shops, and Waseca as of late has really become a destination shopping spot for women and people from all over,” Collins said. “That’s just been wonderful.”

While many local retailers described a difficult couple of years trying to claw back revenue lost to the pandemic, Dennis and Karen Vinar, owners of Northfield’s Paper and Petalum, are reminders of the risks small businesses have always faced, far before the pandemic.

Paper Petalum

Northfield’s Paper and Petalum owners, Karen and Dennis Vinar, pictured in this April file photo, struggled not just with the pandemic but with the loss of their business in November 2020 following the devastating Archer House fire. Now, moved across the street, Karen said she and Dennis actually prefer the new building to the old one. (File photo/southernminn.com)

The Vinars’ business was destroyed in the devastating Archer House fire of November 2020. After it happened, they thought seriously about retiring. In the end, they relocated to a spot across the street, which Karen said they actually like better than the previous location.

All in all, she said, things are definitely better this year for Paper Petalum.

“It’s going great compared to last year when everyone was suffering from COVID-19 and our shop was destroyed in the hotel fire,” she said.

For Karen, the importance of supporting local businesses — beyond, of course, enjoying an intimate shopping experience and finding unique products — lies in their vulnerability to forces beyond their control, whether they be by plague or flame.

Carol Hayes, owner of St. Peter’s Contents, a gift shop, as well as Cooks and Company, said she thinks sales are so much better this year because local business in a small-town atmosphere provide a sense of community people have been missing throughout the isolation of the pandemic.

“Considering we were closed for three months during the height of COVID, yes, it’s certainly been an improvement over the last year,” Hayes said.

Part of the improvement also has to do with the contributions of her community.

“I think people are making a really concerted effort to shop small and it’s so appreciated by all of the small businesses on every Main Street,” she said.

Steve Thaemert, owner of the Le Sueur oddity shop The 207 Curiosities, which opened in June, doesn’t have the previous holiday season to compare with this year. Since his store also constitutes somewhat of a “niche” business, he said he’s not expecting huge sales right before Christmas. That said, Thaemert has been pleasantly surprised at how much traffic he’s been getting so far given the oddness of his shop in a small town.

The 207 Curiosities owner Steve Thaemert, pictured in this June file photo, said one way the supply chain disruption puts small businesses like his at an advantage is his products are made locally and not stuck overseas or on a ship. (File photo/southernminn.com)

While Thaemert said he’s had some difficulty getting a hold of some of his wholesale product as a result of supply chain issues, he said the supply chain disruption is actually a good reason for people to shop locally.

“A lot of the stuff that you can get in these little shops, a lot of that stuff isn’t coming from China or isn’t stuck in those shipping containers — especially the boutiques with that handmade stuff,” he said.

Plus, Thaemert added, the wares of local shops are way “cooler.”

“What’s cooler than local, handmade stuff made from a local crafter?” he asked. “I mean, that’s awesome.”


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New STEM unit from STARBASE Minnesota to be introduced to grade 5 students
  • Updated

Owatonna fifth grade students are heading to Mars … sort of.

Owatonna School District STEAM Education Coordinator, Dr. Tom Meagher was approached by one of the fifth grade teachers at Lincoln Elementary about introducing a new STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — curriculum courtesy of STARBASE Minnesota.

Meagher was apprehensive at first and wanted to dig a little deeper into the program to ensure that it was compliant with the newly updated science standards for middle schools in Minnesota, especially because the kids were being offered it for free.. The science standards were reviewed in 2018-19, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, and a final draft was approved in 2019 with the plan of the changes in standards for K-12 education being fully implemented by the 2024-25 school year.

Meagher

When Meagher confirmed that the curriculum for the unit was compliant with current standards, he was fully on board with helping introduce the “Destination Mars” unit and kits to all fifth grade students in the Owatonna school district.

“I contacted STARBASE and told them that we have four elementary schools in the district and wanted to make sure that all of our fifth grade students could get involved in this,” Meagher said. “They said they’d love to supply all the schools.”

Most of the schools STARBASE works with are located in the metro area, but there is a desire to make an impact on youth throughout the whole state of Minnesota. Kim Van Wie, executive director of STARBASE Minnesota, said that the STEM kit curriculum and website were developed by STARBASE Minnesota and funded by the state legislator through the Minnesota Department of Education. The organization has been around since 1993 and has impacted more that 67,000 students and youth in Minnesota.

Meagher said the kits should arrive some time in January, and STARBASE Minnesota provides the initial professional training for the teachers on how to teach the material to the students. He said following the provided training, he will be an “on-site” support for the teachers and teams should they need additional support.

“The cool thing is the materials are designed to allow students to think outside of the box a little bit … it’s not like classic science,” Meagher said. “They get to explore what being a space scientist or space engineer or geologist would be like as NASA explores Mars or other planets.”

The kits are full of materials for experiments, including plastic cups, instant snow, different colors of magic sand, a deck of Mars-based and career cards, tape, markers, a magnifying glass, fingerprinting ink strip and more. Each fifth grade student in Owatonna will receive their own kit. Along with the physical element, there are also many online activities and resources for the teacher and students to utilize to create a fully immersive experience for critical thinking, problem solving and getting creative.

Ready-to-use kits will and supplies will be given to each fifth grade student participating in the Destination Mars unit, courtesy of STARBASE Minnesota. Along with the physical supplies and experiments, online activities that coincide with the kits will give students a full STEM experience. (Photo Courtesy of STARBASE Minnesota)

“The kids will get to role play as a scientist, engineer or mathematician and problem solve how to get ships to Mars and make sure they have the correct energy to travel there and back … or figure out how to set up a station on Mars and make it livable for people,” Meagher said. “It is a combination of real life problems and role playing to teach kids STEM and get them thinking about the future and exposing them to possible career options that are provided through NASA, or SpaceX or other organizations like that.”

Meagher said he is hopeful that the teachers and materials will be ready for introducing the new STEM unit for the third quarter of the school year this year. He said the entire unit takes about a month to teach to the students depending on if teachers make any modifications to the guide provided in the teacher’s kit.


Exchange Club of Owatonna donates to Family Unity fund

Exchange Club of Owatonna donates to Family Unity fund

The Exchange Club of Owatonna presented a $3000 to the Exchange Club Center for Family Unity building fund campaign. The Center works with families, making sure the parents have good parenting skills. For more info on the Center, here is their link: https://centerforfamilyunitymn.org. Accepting the check is Kathey Huisman, administration to the Center and Jim Barnes, interim Director of the Center. Also, Sandra McConn Halla, President of the Exchange Club of Owatonna.


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COVID overwhelming health care in southern Minnesota
  • Updated

Nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, local hospitals are as overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases as ever — and hospital leaders fear that if more Minnesotans don’t step up to help stop the virus’s spread, the situation is likely to get much worse.

Last week marked a grim milestone, with Minnesota officially surpassing 10,000 COVID-19 deaths. Since the pandemic’s inception, about 980,000 COVID cases have been confirmed in Minnesota, putting the state on pace to reach 1 million confirmed cases around Christmas.

With thousands of new COVID cases reported each day, the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. That’s even though the state hasn’t yet seen a significant influx of confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant, with only a handful yet detected.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 3% of COVID cases across the country were of the Omicron variant. As it continues to spread, hospitals are likely to become even more overwhelmed with COVID patients.

The situation has become so concerning that executives from nine large Minnesota care providers, including Allina Health and Mayo Clinic, released a joint statement last week warning that their ability to meet the full care needs of their patients has been severely compromised.

“At any time you or a loved one might need our support,” the statement reads. “Heart Attacks. Car Accidents. Cancer. Stroke. Appendicitis. Now, an ominous question looms: will you be able to get care from your local community hospital without delay? Today, that’s uncertain.”

The hospital leaders went on to specifically urge Minnesotans to get their COVID vaccine and booster, if they have not already, wear a mask, socially distance, and to get tested if they feel sick. Currently, about 76% of Minnesotans over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated.

Michael Johnston, who currently serves as President of District One and Owatonna Hospitals, confirmed that care crunch is being felt locally. Johnston said that the hospitals have had to make major adjustments to focus on meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients.

“Our hospitals are filled to capacity, and we are experiencing very long wait times in emergency departments across our system,” Johnston said in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to balance the health care needs of COVID and non-COVID patients by continuing to monitor hospital capacity, delaying surgical procedures as safely as possible and utilizing our in-house programs, like our Home Hospital Care program.”

Mayo Clinic spokesperson Kristy Jacobson noted that, while Mayo’s hospitals have been operating near capacity for months, due to the pandemic, the need for care has become greater in recent weeks. Jacobson took pains to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated.

If more Minnesotans don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19, she expressed concerns that even deadlier variants of the virus could surface. Furthermore, she noted the vaccine has been shown to be particularly effective in preventing severe and life threatening symptoms. Over the last six weeks, the number of unvaccinated patients who have needed ICU care for COVID at Mayo has been five to six times higher than the number of vaccinated patients.

Stephanie Holden, chief experience officer at River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter, said that if you’re concerned about Omicron, the most important step you can do to protect yourself and those around you is to receive your COVID booster shot. Although it includes far more mutations than seen in previous COVID variants and studies have shown it to be far more contagious, Holden noted that research still indicates the booster shot still offers effective protection against Omicron.

In addition to getting your booster shot, Holden emphasized that it’s very important to wear a mask and socially distance in public. She urged the public to get vaccinated against the flu as well, saying River’s Edge has seen a significant number of influenza cases as of late.

“We have seen a lot of people who come in with COVID-type symptoms and think it is COVID, but it ends up being the flu,” she said. “Getting influenza can be just as dangerous as COVID for someone who is immunocompromised.”


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