NEW CASTLE — For 72 years, people went to Jameson Hospital just to have lunch at the hostess shop for egg salad sandwiches, milkshakes, soups or the daily special.
With its array of unique jewelry, accessories and chic clothing, the store was a treasure trove for gifts, especially during the holidays. Visitors bought patients small gifts, slippers, magazines, flowers or candy.
All of that is now a memory. The hospital announced Wednesday the hostess shop, which closed in mid-March because of the pandemic, will close permanently.
The volunteer-run store, inside the main lobby of UPMC Jameson Hospital, was separate from hospital operations. It had been started by the Jameson Junior Guild volunteers in 1948; it moved to the lobby in 1953.
The permanent closure was not the guild’s decision, said President Judy Martello. UPMC officials informed guild members recently the hospital will take that space over for other uses.
UPMC Jameson spokeswoman Lisa Lombardo said the decision wasn’t easy.
“Over the years, our incredible hospital auxiliary, the Jameson Junior Guild, has run the (shop) and dedicated countless volunteer hours,” she said.
The all-volunteer guild used funds from sales to purchase items that have improved the hospital and patient satisfaction, Lombardo said Thursday in an email. She attributed the decision for permanent closure to declining guild membership over the past several years, and limited volunteers on-site amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, guild fundraising has diminished, making it impossible to keep the hostess shop running, Lombardo said.
“Everyone at UPMC Jameson is appreciative of the work and devotion of the guild,” she said. “We continue to support our auxiliary in its future efforts to fundraise. and we are exploring options to offer some of the hostess shop favorites in other areas of the hospital.”
UPMC Jameson President Robert Jackson and other UPMC officials met with guild members. “It was more of an announcement than a discussion,” Martello said. “We’ve had a couple other meetings with UPMC about how to get rid of our inventory.”
Lombardo said the hospital and the guild are looking at inventive ways to sell the shop’s remaining merchandise.
“It’s a sad day,” Martello said. “It’s their hospital and their decision, and we have to make the best of it. They’re just doing away with what the guild was known for.”
The guild initially opened the hostess shop to raise money for the hospital, and it donates all of its profit to the hospital, Martello said. The shop had a couple of paid workers, but guild volunteers ran the shop Mondays through Fridays, including purchasing and inventory.
The guild still plans to sponsor lobby sales and raise funds for the hospital, Martello said.
Once the pandemic is under control and volunteers and visitors are allowed back in the hospital, the guild will resume fundraising. When the popular snack bar was open, the shop “was packed all time,” Martello said. All of the food was made there.
Sales have dropped but “we’re still making money,” she said.
The Jameson Junior Guild currently has 75 members; all but two are older than 65. For now, the only volunteers allowed in the hospital are those younger ones. Visitors are restricted to one specific person per patient.
An annual guild highlight since 1965 was the annual pre-holiday bazaar on the first Thursday in November. The bazaar, too, was canceled this year because of the pandemic.
Wendy Wojcik, past president of the guild, fondly recalls decorating the hostess shop. “We would start early the Sunday morning before. By the end of the day, we would have turned the shop into a Christmas wonderland,” she said.
“While working together over the years with my fellow guild members, we created memories that we will always cherish, and bonded friendships that will continue,” Wojcik said. “It really was a labor of love for the community, the hospital, and for each other.”
Thelma Turner, a guild volunteer for 28 years, was one of the shop’s buyers. “I loved it,” she said. “I’ll miss all our wonderful, faithful customers.”