OWATONNA — It has been less than two months since Sterling Drug closed the doors on its convenience store and popular gift shop, an announcement that left many in the Owatonna community upset.
A fun twist of fate, however, came in the form of bright balloons and window paint as Sterling officially signed a lease to occupy the former Perfect Day Cakes bakery on the 300 block of Cedar Avenue next to Nick’s Pizza. The window display is adorned with the name “Sterling Home” and promises that “really pretty things” are coming in November.
“I love downtown Owatonna and it’s going to be great to be a part of that community,” said Sam Ewing, the president of Sterling Drug. “Downtowns are important to communities and sometimes new businesses need to take risks. [Sterling Home] will be familiar, but different.”
Ewing said that he started looking for a new location for a Sterling gift shop when negotiations first started with Kwik Trip, which purchased the original site with the attached pharmacy at 410 Hoffman Drive. He stated that he looked at several locations before deciding that the former bakery had the right amount of character to bring a new gift shop to life in the upcoming months.
“What’s different is that it will be smaller and more of a boutique gift store than a huge store like we have in several other towns,” Ewing said. “We’re looking at this as an incubator where we can try new things and then roll them out in our other stores.”
Some of the new things Ewing described that will be coming to the new Owatonna store include merchandise from different vendors who have not previously been used as well as some fresh services that will roll out on a trial basis after the holidays.
“One option will be to have a consultation to decorate your home of have one or our people come around to your house to make recommendations for some home décor,” Ewing said as he described the interior styling service. “We have had a few customers in the past ask us to do that and it’s very popular, so we’re going to make it more of a regular offering at the store.”
Ewing said he is also hoping to start a service for realtors to help them stage homes as well as in-house parties for people to try on different clothes and accessories. The idea is also being kicked around to provide a holiday gift basket service where local businesses could have the Sterling Home store make gift arrangements for clients, customers, or employees.
On top of an already exciting announcement, Ewing was happy to confirm that the Sterling Rewards program that was used at the Hoffman location will reactivate when Sterling Home opens. Those who have signed up for the program will already be in the system and rewards certificates and gift cards will be honored on Cedar Avenue. Ewing added that if a rewards certificate expired during the two months that the gift shop was closed that they will work with a customer to still accept the certificate.
The staff that will be working the new gift store is yet to be seen, according to Ewing. He stated that the employees at the previous location were invited to apply for the new positions and time will tell if they accept.
“They were all given a severance because that seemed like the right thing to do as opposed to asking them to wait three months for something that may not have ever happened,” Ewing explained. “It was a really difficult situation, but we did our best.”
Since the storefront announcement earlier this week which has been posted on social media by a variety of people and groups, the Owatonna community is clearly enthusiastic about the return of the gift shop.
“That’s just great, it makes me trust my decision not to leave Owatonna, but to look for a new building,” Ewing said. “We had a strong following at our original store so we look forward to everyone being at our new story when we open.”
“We are super excited about Sterling staying in Owatonna and moving downtown,” said Brad Meier, the president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “It’s a really nice space there and it will really enhance the downtown by helping spread out our retail a little bit.”
Meier said that Sterling has been a strong presence in Owatonna for a number of years, dating back to its original location of more than two decades in the Cedar Mall before moving to Hoffman Drive in 2007. Kwik Trip has since purchased the corner location on Hoffman and will be opening in the near future working in collaboration with the Sterling Pharmacy that has remained in operation throughout the transition.
“Everyone feels that [Sterling Home] is a great fit as a business and being part of the mix of our downtown,” he added. “The Hoffman location is a key corner with high traffic that serves as an entryway into our downtown area, so the transition makes a lot of sense for Kwik Trip.”
Sterling Drug is owned by Austin-based Astrup Drug.