Sterling General Manager Jessica Jenkins, left, helps customer Mavis Bishop browse a selection of tissue paper. Sterling is celebrating 60 years this month. -- Kevin Coss/kevin.coss@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

After humble beginning, Sterling now at 60 years

Published 12:21pm Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nowadays, when new customers walk into Sterling, they’re taken aback by all the gift items and decoration they find inside what looks on the outside to be a plain drug store. But in its earlier years, it was exactly that.

“I started here when I was just 16 years old,” said Jessica Jenkins, the general manager. “It was just your typical drug store.”

Sterling General Manager Jessica Jenkins, who has been with the store for 19 years, is leading the Austin location in its 60th anniversary celebration.

Leonard Astrup, a pharmacist, first opened Sterling Walgreen Agency Drug in December 1952. Exactly 60 years after the store first opened its doors, Sterling has 20 locations in Minnesota and Iowa, and is still owned by the Astrup family. It will celebrate its 60th anniversary on Dec. 17 with a months-long sale and several events along the way.

The drug store moved to its present location on First Avenue Southwest in 2000. With the change in location came a hike in the number of employees and a greater focus on merchandise beyond pharmaceuticals.

“When we first moved down here, it was the hot spot,” Jenkins said. “I think they just saw a bigger market for the gifts and toys.”

Sterling employee Shirley Sanford agrees. She started in the gift department in the basement of the old location 18 years ago, and has held many roles.

“Coming from the old store to this, it was amazing,” she said.

While Austin was home of the first Sterling location, stores have since opened in nearby cities like Albert Lea, Fairmont and Owatonna.

“Our marketing has had to change to work with the times,” she said, adding social networking and technologically-driven means of getting the word out have helped the store shape its advertising.

The passing of the years has brought other changes, as well. The store used to be open until 10 p.m. most nights, but management has since cut back those hours to adapt to when customers tend to shop.

Sterling is in the middle of its “60 Days of Deals,” where it offers discounts centered around the number 60, which goes from Nov. 8 through Jan. 6.

“It’s just a fun way to tie it all together,” Jenkins said.

Several events highlight the anniversary celebration, including “Enchanted Evening,” a girls night from 4 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 11 that features door prizes and gourmet food samples. A customer appreciation event took place at the beginning of the 60 Days of Deals and will become and annual occasion.

“It was really fun,” Jenkins said. “We had a huge turnout.”

Many of Sterling’s frequent shoppers have used the 60th anniversary as a way to reflect on their memories at the store.

“They feel very proud of that and being loyal customers,” Jenkins said.

Sanford said those customers are the best part of working.

“It’s really fun to see them coming in and they’re so happy,” she said. “They know you.”

Many of the employees have been around for a long time, including one pharmacist who has worked there for 37 years. Other staff members have reached their teens or twenties in employment at Sterling.

“It’s our Sterling family,” she said. “We’re all really close with one another.”

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