By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN The positive impact the upcoming $2.5 million St. Mary’s remodeling project will have on the community, seems to be overshadowed by a small piece of the project a pharmacy to be located on St. Mary’s campus.
The subject has been a hot topic for Winsted residents, especially after the city’s Aug. 17 public hearing when Deb Keaveny, CEO of Keaveny Drug in downtown Winsted, told the council how the plans for the pharmacy have put her “in a pinch.”
The community cannot support two pharmacy locations in Winsted, Keaveny said. She already owns one pharmacy, and she has been offered the opportunity to own and operate the pharmacy on St. Mary’s campus, which is something she feels she cannot turn down.
“If I am not the pharmacy that is going to be there, there is a possibility that there would be another pharmacy that would come in and do that,” Keaveny said. “If that would happen, then it’s going to be difficult for us to maintain a pharmacy without St. Mary’s support, without St. Mary’s prescriptions.”
Winsted business owners along 1st St. N. and Main Avenue understand the situation Keaveny has found herself in and do sympathize, but are also worried about what will happen to the downtown traffic if the pharmacy is moved to another location.
Dueber’s District Merchandising Manager Steve Ostlie was very concerned about how moving the pharmacy would affect business at the Winsted Dueber’s store.
“It might be very nice for the people there in that complex (St. Mary’s), but people drive to town to bank, go to the post office, pick up their prescriptions, and they want to run in here (Dueber’s),” Ostlie said. “I do feel it (Keaveny Drug) is beneficial to downtown. This downtown is kind of dying off and I am thinking if they leave, we are kind of here alone. I don’t think it is good for the community.”
Sharon Hecksel who has operated her beauty salon on Winsted’s main street since 1978 is also wondering what will become of the town without the Keaveny traffic.
“I know that a gift shop is her (Keaveny’s) only recourse to keep something in there, but there will not be as much traffic,” Hecksel said. “I suppose it is going to be okay, but I don’t like it. Our downtown is so empty right now. It’s terrible.”
Jerry Otto, who owns Jerry’s TV and Appliance on Main Avenue, opened his business in Winsted in 1961.
“I don’t understand the city giving St. Mary’s the permit to put a drug store in their health care facility,” Otto said. “It is an automatic that you are going to wipe out the main street. These people (Keaveny) can’t exist without the support of St. Mary’s.”
“It is just another area where they take over and dictate how the small business people are going to exist,” Otto said. “And in this case, they will not exist at all. All you have to do is look up and down the main street. You can see how critical things are, and it is just one more nail in it. I can assure you there will probably be more places closing.”
Scott Bayerl became the owner of the Corner Bar in Winsted just this year.
“It is a sad deal to see anyone leave in a building uptown. We have quite a few empty buildings already, and it will mean less traffic. It will be bad for everybody. Not that I have a direct line of people coming out of the pharmacy and coming over here for a drink. But it’s just the whole idea of less people uptown for another reason.
“I realize they (Keaveny) have to make their own financial decisions and have a bottom line, too,” Bayerl added.
President of the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce, Tom Ollig commented about the situation as the chamber president only, not as a city council member.
“First and foremost, what we need to remember and understand is that it is important for the community of Winsted to keep a pharmacy, no matter where it is located,” Ollig said. “The pharmacy is not leaving Winsted, it’s only looking at the possibility of re-locating within the community. Ultimately, the decision to stay where they are or relocate to St. Mary’s is a business decision the Keavenys have to make based on what is best for their business.”
“The Keaveny pharmacy location downtown creates a great deal of citizen traffic,” Ollig said. “This traffic helps other businesses located in the downtown. Without this traffic, it will definitely have a negative effect on downtown commerce. Retail business in any small community is difficult to sustain; we need to look at new and creative ways of keeping our downtown vibrant, either through redevelopment or through nontraditional business. Regardless, if Keaveny moves or not, this needs to be reviewed.”
Several other business owners in Winsted were contacted for their comments, but did not respond for this story.
Winsted City Administrator Andrew Elbert said, “Speaking for the city, local government agencies generally stay neutral. The city works with both parties involved, and so I have no comment.”
To read St. Mary’s Administrator/CEO Andy Opsahl’s response regarding this subject, see the Viewpoints page, letters to the editor.
The next step to finalizing plans for St. Mary’s pharmacy will be the approval of a conditional use permit because St. Mary’s is currently not zoned to allow for retail business.
The permit application approval will first go through the planning commission and then to the city council for approval.