Denise Wagner: Riley Gift Shop Guru

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Located in the Simon Family Tower and run by Denise Wagner, the Riley Hospital for Children’s Cheerful Sunrise Gift Shop has existed since 2011.

A hospital gift shop can be an oasis in a sea of stress. Sweetly scented, they are often chocked with cases of fresh flowers, colorful trinkets and thoughtful cards. Their surroundings are soothing. Riley Hospital for Children’s Cheerful Sunrise Gift Shop is no exception. Located in the Simon Family Tower and run by Denise Wagner, the shop has existed since 2011.

“Our shop can be a respite,” explains Wagner, team leader of the Cheerful Sunrise Gift Shop. “It’s a nice place to look at pretty things--a place where people can let their minds take a break for a few moments and as Riley staffers, we are also here to help where we can. When parents need new surroundings or a different face to talk to, we’re here. We’ve handed out Kleenex and we’ve handed out hugs.”

Wagner, who’s run the shop for five years, is no stranger to retail.  After graduating from Purdue, the young Hoosier hit the Big Apple after college to carve out a career in fashion. “I started my career in store management, then went on to work as a merchandiser and ultimately became a buyer, where I’d regularly travel to Europe and Asia to identify top trends and bring those formats back to the U.S.”

Eventually, however, Wagner got married and moved back to the Midwest with her husband (who was also raised in Indiana). The couple had two daughters and settled down in Brownsburg. “I worked at a local furniture store part time while my daughters were growing up since I loved retail,” Wagner recalls.

And then one day in 2011, a friend who worked at Riley told Wagner about the gift shop job. “Right away, it just felt like the perfect fit,” she says.

Fast forward to today and Wagner has been working there ever since. She says she likes to add new Riley items almost every month. “We have Riley scarves, ball caps, ornaments and more. I’m constantly looking for new merchandise.”

The Riley Cheer Guild, the group that owns the gift shops, is a not-for-profit, volunteer auxiliary that strives to provide comfort and cheer to patients and caregivers at Riley Hospital for Children and IU Health’s adult hospitals on the academic health center. And every purchase makes an impact, says Wagner. “One hundred percent of the profits from purchases at the gift shop go back to the academic health center to enhance patient experience,” she explains.

Sara Wigman, gift shop manager of operations at IU Health and Wagner’s current supervisor, says Wagner is one of her best team leads. “Denise has such great energy and is always thinking of amazing new ideas. I’m proud to work with her.”

In the interim, Wagner admits that her work can sometimes feel like play. “Every day is an adventure,” she says. “I see new faces, meet new people and receive new packages. And even though I order everything, it’s always a blast to open up the boxes to see what we’ve received,” she says.  “And then, it’s fun to plan out where they will all be placed in the store and to think about who will buy and enjoy them. The whole process feels a little bit like Christmas--it’s fantastic.” By Sarah Burns

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