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Not for Profit: Gift Shop at Hospital Closing Doors

Becky Tunick in the Rotary Inner Wheel Gift Shop at the Schneider Regional Medical Center.After almost 30 years, the Inner Wheel Gift Shop at the Schneider Regional Medical Center hospital is closing its doors. But, not to worry.

The venerable little shop will open in two weeks under SRMC management.

Inner Wheel member Becky Tunick, who has overseen the shop’s operation for the better part of the last 23 years, views the transition with mixed feelings.

"It’s like a little home to me," Tunick says. "I know almost all the hospital staff, they’re like family.That’s the thing I will miss most. We simply don’t have enough younger members to step up and run it."

She quickly adds, however, that she’s pleased the hospital is stepping in.

The shop has an intimate connection to the Inner Wheel Club, which was founded on St. Thomas in 1978 by community activist Olivia Lee Dilworth Stanford, its first president. That same year, the club opened the first gift shop in the old Knud Hansen Hospital, after the local government solicited the its assistance.

That gift shop was brought to reality with the fundraising efforts of the Inner Wheel, other Rotary clubs and local businesses. It moved to its present location in 1982.

Reflecting on her own history, Tunick says, "I was asked by the club to do a few little things to help out." She laughs. Those "little things" grew to an abiding passion over the next 23 years.
Along with one paid full-time employee, Yvonne Grosvenor, who has been there 22 years, and two paid part-time employees, and lots of volunteers, Tunick and three other Inner Wheel members keep the shop open seven days a week.

"Since at least the early ’90s," Tunick says, "we have been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, and from 11a.m. until 8 p.m. weekends."

"We run it as a business," Tunick says. The tasks of inventory, payroll, purchasing and staffing are divided between Carole Nelthropp, Carol Hindel and Suzanne Robinson. Nelthropp has taken over when Tunick has taken breaks over the years, she says.

The shop is small, cheery and bright, filled with everything from flowers and cards to small bottles of Listerine, magazines, candies, small gifts, and lots of smiling help.

"Our volunteers come in at lunchtime so we can be open for the hospital employees," Tunick says.

Alice Taylor, SMRC chief executive officer, is looking forward to the transition. Speaking Friday, Taylor took a few minutes to discuss the change.

"The club generously donated its entire $15,000 inventory when they closed the shop," she says. Taylor says. "We are working on some minor renovations right now. Our vision is that we will have an all glass front extending more into the lobby. It would be a really nice display."

Taylor says Yvonne Grosvenor, the 22-year employee, and the two part-time staff will go on the SRMC payroll.

"What we’re doing now while the shop is closed is Yvonne is working at the Boutique in the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute with Donna Phillips, who manages the boutique and will manage the Gift Shop. She’ll be an excellent manager."

One of the high points of Tunick’s tenure is the donations the shop has been able to make to the hospital pediatric ward since 1988, a whopping $123,749.

The contributions include everything from tiny chairs for the play area to a blood pressure machine, a LaZboy mobile recliner, oxygen analyzers, Jasco-2 stethoscopes and eartips and medfusion autosyringe pumps, a papoose board to a phototherapy blanket.

Tunick makes it her business to speak to the doctors and nurses on the ward to find their needs, to find out what all the medical terms mean, and to purchase items. It’s an education in itself.

With a little smile, Tunick describes a tender moment. "We had a premature baby, just one and half pounds., and we brought diapers for him." She holds up her hands, "You should see them, about as big as a band-aid, so tiny, and the little tiny hats, so sweet."

The shop also has a petty cash fund where customers leave change in a baby bottle on the counter.

"In fact," Tunick says, that’s where the premie diapers came from. The nurses know this money is available, and they let us know when they need these small items.

Tunick, like so many folks who’ve made the island their home, came to St. Thomas for a vacation in 1982. She met and married insurer Jim Tunick in the ’80s, and the vacation, as they say, is ongoing.

Tunick says, aside from the people she has met at the hospital in the last couple decades – "the nurses, doctors, patients, the housekeeping staff, the volunteers" – the other highlight has been "seeing the equipment we’ve bought actually being used. That’s so rewarding," she says.

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