For being a mere 28-years-old, Lauren Kozelka wears many hats. Some of her notable hats include: Owatonna Business Women President, Co-Founder of Box Babes, mother of two young children and, most recently, business owner.
Kozelka and her husband Kyle became official owners of Kottke Jewelers on Dec. 29, taking a leap on letting the 100-plus year old staple to downtown Owatonna become an even bigger, brighter part of their lives.
“My dream became a reality when I signed the papers,” Kozelka said. “My dad always said the day I started here that I was Bill’s succession plan … He told me that in 2010, and here I am.”
Becoming the owner of Kottke’s wasn’t initially in Kozelka’s vision plan for her future. When she first started, Kozelka needed a job to bring in some cash while she was still attending high school.
“I only got the job because someone Bill [Kottke] knew recommended me,” Kozelka recalled. “Bill only hired someone by recommendation, and even then it took him a while to finally hire me.”
Growing up on a farm, Kozelka recalled taking an interest in the whole farming operation, eventually attending college at South Dakota State for agricultural business.
“I wanted to give back to the community I grew up in in the agriculture world,” Kozelka said. “That didn’t work out. I didn’t love it.”
Kozelka moved back home to Owatonna and attended Riverland Community College while continuing to work at Kottke’s. Rekindling her love for jewelry, fashion and business, Kazelka still felt she owed it to herself to earn a college degree.
That’s when she enrolled in college in Winona and completed her degree in business administration and human resource management. Living in Wisconsin with Kyle, Kozelka began searching for jobs in that area.
Eventually, the company Kyle was working for offered him a transfer to Owatonna. The pair jumped at the opportunity right away, and shortly after relocating back to her hometown in 2015, Kozelka was offered the store manager position at Kottke Jewelers.
“At that moment, life really came full circle,” Kozelka said. “Jewelry is a true passion for me that I never thought I’d discover. I have to thank Bill for introducing me to something I found a love for that I didn’t want to give up.”
Three generations of the Kottke family have owned and operated the store since first opening in 1919, ending with Matt Kottke selling the store to Kozelka. Some in the community are wondering what new ownership, specifically ownership outside of the family, will mean for the store.
“We want to keep the well-established traditions alive at the store,” Kozelka said. “The feel of walking into a modernized 1919 store, as well as the name, will remain the same. We want the transition to be seamless for everyone, and when people open the door, they’ll see we are still here in the same capacity we always have been and always will be.”
Kozelka said the only change she would make to the way the store operates is eventually adding more of an e-commerce option where their full inventory would be available to shop on the store’s website.
Being an active member of the community in various organizations, and now as a business owner, Kozelka is elated by the opportunity to join the ranks of her fellow downtown business owners that she has grown close to over the years as manager of the store.
“I’m proud of myself for accomplishing all that I have and only being 28 years old,” Kozelka said. “I love being so closely tied with the other like-minded business women in the community, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. This is truly just the beginning.”