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The Little Shop gift shop and cafe at Excela Latrobe Hospital to close | TribLIVE.com
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The Little Shop gift shop and cafe at Excela Latrobe Hospital to close

Jeff Himler
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Volunteers with an average time of 24 yrs, pose for a portrait at The Little Shop, in Excela Latrobe Hospital, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. From Left to right: Manager Paula Sowlinski, Dorris Parker, Barbara Fitzmaurice, Dottie Lynch, Susan Lena, Susannah Calvo, Mary Ruth Hodder, and Susanne Lynch. After more than 75 years in existence, and more than $1.5 Million in donations to the hospital from profits, the Little Shop will begin a going out of business sale on July 9, 2018.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Items for sale at The Little Shop, in Excela Latrobe Hospital, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Lab Tech Diane Geiger, browses items for sale at The Little Shop, in Excela Latrobe Hospital, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
The Little Shop, in Excela Latrobe Hospital, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

The Little Shop gift shop and cafe has had a big impact at Excela Latrobe Hospital, raising more than $1.8 million since 1942 to support hospital improvements and to benefit patients.

In response to changing times, the shop is preparing to close its doors with a clearance sale that kicks off at 9 a.m. July 9.

The day will include an 11:30 a.m. Salebration of Service event to recognize the volunteers who have overseen and worked at the shop. Many of them devoted decades to the charitable enterprise.

“We’re not able to give the hospital the money that we used to and maintain the shop and pay the employees,” said Mary Ruth Hodder, who has volunteered at the shop for 40 years and previously served as president of its volunteer board.

Shop operations now are “draining the money that we could give to the hospital,” she said. “So we decided, rather than have it drain down to nothing, we’d end up with some reasonable money for them.”

She added that the shop’s veteran volunteers are “all getting old.”

The Little Shop employs a manager and four cooks. But the rest of the work is done by volunteers like Hodder — and Dorothy Lynch, who has assisted there for 35 years.

Buyers for the shop, the two women have adjusted the inventory to follow changing consumer interests.

The shop at one time carried sterling silver and cut-glass pieces and maintained a bridal registry, Lynch said.

“That was before Macy’s and the mall,” Hodder noted.

The Little Shop was long a go-to stop for buying items for infants.

“People from Greensburg would come to buy their baby clothes here because we never marked things up,” Hodder said.

Hospital staff have found the shop a convenient place for picking up gifts — including Diane Geiger of Latrobe, a laboratory technologist with 40 years service who said she’ll miss visiting the shop to browse and buy Christmas ornaments.

“When you need something, you can find something for a gift here,” Geiger said. “I guess I’ll have to find somewhere else.”

Visitors may stop to buy flowers or a small gift for a loved one who has been admitted to the hospital, or to distract themselves while they wait for someone undergoing a procedure.

The first donation the Little Shop board made was $1,000 for improvements in the hospital’s children’s ward.

The most recent, in 2010, was $25,000 for pumps used to inflate mattresses that provide extra comfort for patients who face extended bed confinement.

In between, the shop contributed sums including $250,000 toward construction of the hospital’s patient services tower, in 1995, and $100,000 for a later expansion of the emergency department.

The shop is so named because it got its start in a 6-foot-square sun porch. According to spokeswoman Robin Jennings, hospital officials haven’t yet determined the next use for the 3,000 square feet the shop and cafe now occupy near the main entrance.

A cafeteria located elsewhere in the hospital will continue to serve staff and visitors.

But many will miss the food, service and intimate setting at the cafe.

That includes Holly DiBiasi, manager of the Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation, and Jane Kerr, executive director of Laurel Area Faith in Action, a nonprofit that serves area seniors. They shared lunch at the cafe on Wednesday.

“There’s a fellowship here,” said Kerr, who volunteered at the cafe while she was in high school and her aunt, Edith Graham, was manager. “I learned to make sundaes here.”

“They have any candy bar you ever had as a kid,” she added.

DiBiasi said the cafe is “a throwback to the good old days that no longer exists. But it exists here.”

The shop’s volunteers, currently numbering 27, have logged nearly 100,000 hours of service since formal tracking began in 2009.

Lynch said she will continue to volunteer with Faith in Action once the shop closes. Hodder, who hasn’t decided what her next move will be, will miss the people she’s met at the store.

“It’s enjoyable, giving a morning or an afternoon a week,” Hodder said. ”And, of course, I enjoy shopping.”

To move the remaining merchandise promptly, the shop will sell many items at a 70 percent discount — not including food served at the cafe.

Any remaining items that aren’t purchased may be donated to assist local organizations, Jennings said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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