Author: chk04008

Looking at Us: Friendly Face in the Gift Shop

Debbie Baril, manager of the Connucopia Gift Shop at UConn Health (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

If you’ve been to the Connucopia Gift Shop, either in its old location in the main lobby, its current location on the University Tower mezzanine, or the kiosk in the Outpatient Pavilion, chances are you’ve exchanged smiles with Debbie Baril. Debbie has been managing the gift shop, which is part of the UConn Health Auxiliary, since 2006. She lives in Winsted with her husband, Marcel, and their two dogs, and has three grown children.

How has the first year been in the new location, on the mezzanine of the University Tower?

The gift shop was in the main lobby of the original hospital building for more than 35 years. The transition to the new building was both bittersweet and exciting. We loved our old location but we’re now in a new, lovely, light-filled space. We are also lucky to have great neighbors, Starbucks!

How would you describe your customers?

We cater to visitors, patients, staff and students alike. I would estimate staff and students make up about 70 percent of our business at this time. We see fewer visitors and patients at the new location, but we’re always thrilled when we can help them find that special gift or at least provide a place they can come, take a break, window shop and regroup. It’s always humbling to receive a thank you note from a customer telling you how much you helped at a difficult time. We have many “regulars” who frequent the shop. We have everything from women who wait for the new apparel to arrive to get the best selection to staff who come in for their daily pack of gum. It’s been a challenging road with the move, but our regulars have remained loyal.

Debbie Baril

Favorite musical:

Favorite musician:
James Taylor (Our annual Fourth of July tradition at Tanglewood!)

Favorite time of year:
Definitely the Christmas season. In our house it begins with caroling on Thanksgiving night and ending with a “new year around-the-world” party on New Year’s Eve at my house with friends and family.

Favorite delicacy:
A recipe for gravlax given to me by a retired Connucopia volunteer. It has now become our annual “tree trimming” dinner.

Favorite vacation spot:
One of my favorite places on earth is Martha’s Vineyard. We vacation there every year and now my children will continue the tradition when they have their own families.

What should people know about the kiosk in the Outpatient Pavilion?

In 2015 we opened a small satellite shop on the first floor of the Outpatient Pavilion. We staff that shop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week and are closed at that location on the weekends. We carry a small selection of gifts, accessories, UConn products and edibles.

What is the connection with the UConn Health Auxiliary?

The Connucopia is owned by the UConn Health Auxiliary. All profits from the two Connucopia Gift Shops as well as the UConn Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop benefit the Auxiliary, which supports UConn Health in many ways. The shops are the major source of revenue for the Auxiliary, which also benefits from membership dues, special events and vendor sales. We host vendor sales on campus anywhere from one to as many as six times a week during the holiday months. We’ve recently been lucky enough to host two farm trucks, Harvest Bakery and Truffles Food Truck, thanks to Allan Peterson [director of Parking, Transportation and Event Services].

How do you staff the Gift Shop locations?

It takes six paid employees to staff both Connucopia shops. We have one paid employee on every shift including nights and weekends. We’re fortunate to have the help of two to four volunteers per day. They assist in the main gift shop by waiting on customers, checking in and marking new products, as well as merchandising and restocking.

What’s something about the Gift Shop most folks should know but probably don’t?

Our merchandise updates constantly so our customers see something new at every visit. We’ve worked hard making the Connucopia into a mini department store. We sell everything from the new dress you need because you forgot about an after-work event, flowers, cards and gifts to brighten a patients room to UConn apparel to wear to the game. We stock a full array of sundries and tech accessories. We also carry books of stamps. As the Connucopia is not for profit, there is no sales tax charged!

Festival of Trees and Winter Faire

Festival of Trees & Winter Faire bannerKick off the holiday season by attending the Festival of Trees and Winter Faire, Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., University Tower Main level. Hosted by the UConn Health Auxiliary, the event serves as its main fundraiser with proceeds to benefit the UConn Health Patient Assistance Fund.

The Festival replaces the Auxiliary’s longstanding holiday bazaar. “Although the bazaar has always been well attended, we felt it was time to try something different and start a new tradition,” say Auxiliary Facilitator Irene Engel.

The event will incorporate some of the elements of the Holiday Bazaar. Instead of offering one day of shopping, the Festival will feature a variety of different local craftsman each day giving individuals more opportunities to shop and attend the event.

Also returning are the holiday baskets donated by the UConn Health community. “The holiday basket drawing is a fan favorite and every year departments are very generous in their donations,” adds Engel.

A sparkling display of trees decorated by Auxiliary members and UConn staff, students, and volunteers will be the main feature of the Festival. “This is a fun way for departments to get into the holiday spirit and show off their creativity,” says event co-chair Chris Kaminski. “Best of all, every beautifully decorated tree will go home with a lucky winner through the Festival of Trees and Winter Faire drawing,” adds Kaminski.

“As in past years, we hope the UConn Health community will support us by decorating and donating a tree and/or holiday basket and by attending the event,” says Engel.

Interested in decorating a tree or donating a holiday basket? Visit the Auxiliary website for tree decorating guidelines and registration information.