By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Nineteen sixty-one was a big year for TV.
John F. Kennedy was the first US president to be inaugurated with a color telecast, and he also gave the first live televised presidential press conference.
Closer to home, Jerry and Carole Otto remember 1961 as the year they opened their TV and appliance repair business on the corner of Second Street North and Main Avenue West in Winsted.
“We decided the opportunity was there for us to start,” Jerry recalled.
He had graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Winsted five years earlier (Carole graduated in 1958), and had also completed a degree at DeVry Technical Institute in Chicago. Before starting his own business, Jerry gained TV repair experience working for a company in Minneapolis.
When Jerry first started serving customers in Winsted, he charged $3.45 for calls in town, and $4.25 for calls in the country. Some people felt the extra charge was unfair, though, so Jerry made the price a consistent $4.25 for anywhere in an eight-mile radius.
Jerry and Carole rented the building at 210 Main Avenue the first two years, then purchased it from the Weinbeck family in 1963.
Business was conducted in the main level, and the Ottos lived upstairs.
“It was very handy,” Jerry said. In the mornings, he usually fixed smaller items in the store, and Carole managed the building in the afternoon while Jerry was out on service calls.
In 1970, the Ottos built a house in rural Lester Prairie, which gave the family a lot more space. The children still spent plenty of time at Jerry’s TV and Appliances, though, and their son, Phillip, enjoyed it so much he created his own mini-business as a teenager, called Dr. P’s Stereos. Now, Phillip has a career in sound and security.
Other kids from the community also helped at Jerry’s TV, such as Jim Koch and Gary Lenz.
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was very good go, go go,” Jerry said. “I did appliances as well, and many sound systems for churches and other facilities.”
As time went on, the cost of parts went up, while the cost of new TVs and appliances went down. Technology improved, as well.
“The industry keeps on moving,” Jerry said.
Jerry’s TV had a loyal clientele in its 56 years of business, and many second- and third-generation customers.
“It’s surprising how many people I don’t know, and then I find out that I worked for their grandfather,” Jerry said.
He enjoys finding connections among families, and said he loved the daily interaction with customers.
“I enjoyed what I was doing working for people and helping them out,” he said. “There was never a time card for me. Whatever we had to do, we got it done.”
Jerry said one reason he started a business in Winsted is because of lessons he learned at Holy Trinity High School. He remembers the parish administrator and principal advising students to get an education, and then come back and serve the community.
Coincidentally, the person who bought the repair shop building from Jerry recently is also a Holy Trinity High School graduate.
Emma Neumann, class of 2009, approached Jerry because she was interested in returning to the community to open her own salon. (A separate story about Emma’s salon plans will appear in a future edition.)
“Emma’s doing the same thing, just a different style,” Carole said.
“She’s in the best location in Winsted, I think,” Jerry added.
In retirement, Jerry and Carole are looking forward to house projects, travel, and time with their family.
Their five children include:
• Suzette Neumann (spouse Dean) of Winsted,
• Phillip Otto (spouse Darcy) of Orono,
• Julene Otto (spouse Chris Claus) of San Antonio, TX,
• Beth Otto (spouse Dan Boyle) of Parker, CO, and
• Eve Pfutzenreuter (spouse Mace) of Plymouth.