‘Free Rein’ to shop local


Owner Melanie Stuhlmiller at her boutique on East Main St. in Cottage Grove.

COTTAGE GROVE – Melanie Stuhlmiller wasn’t about to spend her life working 9-to-5s. Despite the familiar pandemic-related challenges, she pushed through to make her small-town women’s boutique, Free Rein on Main, the success it is today. 

Today, the store offers fashionable jeans, sweaters and lingerie with inclusive sizes. The large amount of floor space makes for easy browsing and social distancing. 

No detail was overlooked by Stuhlmiller, and location was key. Finding the perfect space for the boutique has been a journey – from humble beginnings remotely working on her online store, to opening a temporary storefront location month-to-month.


Stuhlmiller opened a temporary storefront across from Cottage Grove City Hall in October 2019, and rented month-to-month until the nonessential shutdown in March 2020. Although Free Rein was allowed to remain open, due to the pandemic, nobody was coming in. 

Still looking for a permanent storefront, Stuhlmiller eyed Ernie Olson’s 16th and Main streets building project. Olson’s building was being remodeled and not yet ready for occupation. Rather than stay open during a dry spell, she closed the storefront and ran the store online for a few months.

“I survived (the shutdown) because I didn’t have any overhead. I didn’t have an employee. I didn’t have any rent. I just focused on what I needed to do to get this ready,” she said. 

After a name change from Shoppe Free Rein to Free Rein on Main, the boutique reopened at 1601 E. Main St. in June 2020. Though no doubt sales would be better without a pandemic, but despite this, the town has “really shown up,” Stuhlmiller said.


“They come, they look, and even if they don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend, they buy one or two things,” Stuhlmiller said. “If it wasn’t a pandemic, (business) would have been three times better.”

Stuhlmiller said she pays attention to what folks around town are wearing in order to provide the best everyday styles for the people in Cottage Grove. 

And not to rush – but she doesn’t order anything twice. Once an item sells out, it’s gone.  

Customers should check at and for updated inventory. Shipping, delivery and free in-store pickup are available.



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