Amid pandemic, Edgewood Locker encounters increased demand

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Edgewood Locker, a business that’s been run by the Kerns family since the mid-1960s, has been busier than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured (front, left to right) are Terry Kerns, Joan Kerns (who founded Edgewood Locker with husband Tom), Jim Kerns; (back) Luke Kerns, Katie Anderson, Baili Maurer and Payson Kerns. (Submitted photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

“A commitment to quality.” That’s how Terry Kerns of Edgewood Locker describes the family business’s ability to survive the global pandemic, among other things. “Fortunate” is the other term Kerns used, quite often, to describe the success of one of northeast Iowa’s most famous lockers—a locker that’s been in his family since the mid-1960s and is currently being run by Kerns and his brother, Jim. The family affair has progressed into its third generation, as their own children have gotten involved. 

The early years of success gave the locker the ability to expand, and now they serve about 60 businesses throughout northeast Iowa. 

According to Kerns, “It just happened. We did not set out to be this big.” 

But they are that big, due to having some of the best technology, employees, decades of experience, confidence in their product and an efficient process that allows for a massive amount of variety among their offerings. It’s an accomplishment they achieved with minimal advertisement and a lot of word of mouth, as Kerns told it. 

However, as with all things this year, the locker has been impacted by COVID-19. But the family that’s survived previous challenges is facing this one head on as well, and coming out on the right side of that struggle. 

“We are fortunate that our problem is having too much to do. We’ve had to turn customers away,” Kerns said. 

In fact, the locker is so busy they’re currently booking well into next year, around February and March. There is even a waiting list—a fact Kerns acknowledged is hard for farmers.

“If we could help more customers, we would,” he added.

So, what has changed at the locker since COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head and what have they done to prevent and mitigate the virus? According to Kerns, they’ve split shifts, spaced out employees, slowed down production and supported any worker who felt they needed to be home or had to be home for circumstances caused by COVID-19. 

When asked what explains the uptick in business, Kerns suggested first that there is a lack of lockers, not just in Iowa, but in general. 

“It’s not a simple or easy business,” he said. First there is the costly investment and then the cumbersome regulations that prevent new lockers from opening or cause some to shut down. 

It’s the latter aspect where Kerns argued Edgewood “leads the way,” citing the fact that they have two dedicated people on staff who handle nothing but the regulations portion of the business. 

There is also the fact that it is a physically demanding job and, currently, the business is having difficulty finding workers. Add in the panic buying in the early days of COVID, which drove demand, and the Edgewood phones started ringing. 

The locker faced its own problems as packing plants closed, causing prices to go up and product availability to decrease. Kerns was adamant Edgewood is trying to keep prices reasonable, but they probably won’t return to pre-COVID prices. 

Lastly, Kerns suggested part of the increase in business has been happening for years. There is an ongoing trend toward a “farm-to-fork” mentality that gives people the ability to know exactly where their meat comes from. 

“It’s not a fad,” Kerns suggested. “There is a trend toward the local economy among the public. It’s something they feel good about doing.” 

Indeed, Kerns and Edgewood seem invested in the local economy of northeast Iowa, with a long term goal of becoming “a bigger presence” in the region. 

But Kerns said they “don’t want to be the next Johnsonville brat” because they just want to serve the area they’ve called home for the last five decades. 

“We just want to do what we do,” Kerns said.

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