Community gathers at Sterling to celebrate 60 years of business

Leonard Astrup, founder of Sterling Drug in Austin, stands with longtime employee Sharon Wagner, who started with the business from the beginning and worked until 1994. — Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

Sterling Drug in Austin, a bustling place on Monday afternoon, showed again why it is the small business that has stood the test of time.

People gathered at Sterling to honor Leonard Astrup — who started the business on Dec. 17, 1952 — along with some of his longtime employees.

“This is a very proud time for our family”, said Leonard’s son, Chris Astrup. “We’ve been fortunate to work with an outstanding group of people over the years, that we’ve always felt are second to none. We’ve also been blessed with many loyal customers.”

Leonard, warmly known as Len, grew his business over the years with the addition of the pharmacies in Austin, Albert Lea, Fairmont, and Owatonna. In 1980, Walgreens eliminated its franchise division altogether and alerted Leonard with a letter. Because most of his inventory was supplied through the Walgreens franchise, it required fast thinking to keep things running. In response, Len opened his own warehouse and expanded his hardware, grocery, cosmetic and general merchandise departments. Gifts, toys and seasonal products came later.

Sterling began a second generation of owners when Len’s twin sons, Dan and Chris, became pharmacists. In 1987, they became second-generation owners of Astrup Drug, Inc. and, along with Len, are the owner/operators of the organization today.

But just as much praise went to longtime employees like John Skaar, Lois King, and especially Sharon Wagner. Wagner started with the business in 1952 and worked to 1994. And she still has a soft spot in her heart for the business.

“I think it’s remarkable,” she said about the business’ solid hold in Austin. “To have a family-owned business for 60 years is really something.”

Leonard joked about how some former employees saw Wagner as the leader, and not him.

Employees and old friends reminisced Monday about the store’s history while enjoying cake and special promotions and mystery treasures throughout the store.

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