Dyersville merchant says gift shop business ‘belongs to God’

Donates all profits from ‘Upper Room’ to various charities

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer

Witness Correspondent

DYERSVILLE — While Kathy Riesberg oversees the day-to-day operations of the Upper Room, a Christian gift shop in Dyersville, she does not consider the business to be her own.

“The business belongs to God,” Riesberg told The Witness in a recent interview. She said she runs the Upper Room with “divine guidance, and a lot of it!”

The Upper Room has its origins in 2013, when Kathy Riesberg’s husband, Roger Riesberg, was ordained a deacon and began serving the five parishes of the Spires of Faith Cluster.

“After his ordination, I had a great void because a lot of emphasis is on the wife’s participation in the 4 1/2 years of formation,” Kathy recalled. “So after Roger’s ordination, I kept praying for the Lord to show me what his calling was for me.”

Kathy Riesberg said that one day, while she was at home taking a shower, she received the answer to her prayers when God revealed to her the plans he had for her. “The Lord was speaking to me, not out loud, but in my mind,” Riesberg reflected. “He told me he wanted me to open a Christian gift shop, that the name should be Upper Room.”

Kathy Riesberg, owner of the Upper Room in Dyersville, is shown standing in front of a display of crucifixes and other religious items sold at the gift shop. Since 2013, there has been no commercial advertising of the business. It has  has gained customers mainly by word of mouth and walk-ins. (Contributed photo)

She said God told her the business should be a nonprofit with all of its proceeds given to charitable causes and that there should be no commercial advertising because he wanted the word to spread like his disciples spread the Gospel message, one person to another.

Riesberg said, “I was so beyond amazed that I ran to the kitchen to relay the whole experience to Roger, and his response was, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’  So the Upper Room came into existence.”

The Upper Room was a fitting name for the new gift shop. Not only does the name have religious significance – in the Bible, the Upper Room was the setting for a number of important New Testament events, including the Last Supper, several of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on Pentecost – but it also made sense because of where the shop was to be located, literally in the upper room above another business, Mr. Lock & Key and the Vacuum Center, which is owned by the Riesbergs’ son Phillip Hoeger.

Upstairs in the Upper Room gift shop, Riesberg said she sells “a little bit of many things.” “I try to have merchandise for the seven sacraments,” she said, “but also for different denominations and also with updated merchandise like holy socks and religious masks, modern crosses and jewelry with faith embellishments.” Riesberg said she also sells items from local artisans, including greeting cards, jewelry and wooden gifts by area craftsmen, as well as goods from Haitian artisans, items from the Holy Land, concrete statuary, memorial gifts and wedding gifts.

All of the Upper Room’s proceeds go toward helping others and making a difference in the local community and around the world. Donations are made to assist the parishes of the Spires of Faith Cluster, the cluster’s Haitian ministry, Beckman Catholic High School, and the Clarity Clinic, a nonprofit organization that helps women and men in crisis pregnancy situations. Riesberg said the Upper Room also donates funds toward ministries for minorities, rental assistance to those in need, and for “whatever or wherever the Lord’s prompting leads.”

Riesberg said her favorite part of running the Upper Room has been the customers with whom she has gotten to interact. She said she gets a lot of the friends of previous customers who have heard about the store and decide to check it out for themselves. Riesberg said she also gets customers who are shopping at other local businesses or are even pumping gas at the nearby gas station and happen to see the sign for the Upper Room and decide to come in and look around. “It is quite miraculous!” she said.

As for her customers, Riesberg said it is not always about selling them merchandise. It is also, according to Riesberg, about “assisting people with a need; sometimes that need is a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, a tissue to wipe a tear, advice on where to find help, maybe a prayer or even a hug.”

Riesberg has no employees who work for her at the Upper Room, but she does sometimes get help from her husband and other family members and friends. She also is aided in the store in a unique way by a couple of nonhumans, one with feathers and one with four legs.

The feathered friend is a parrot named Gismo who Riesberg said is “great entertainment for the children” who visit the store. The other creature companion is a dog named Frederick who belongs to Riesberg’s son. Frederick has been at the Upper Room since he was a 10-week-old puppy, and he’s now 4 years old. “We like to think of him as the store mascot and also the therapy dog,” Riesberg said.  “We actually have people who come in just to spend a little time with Fred and give him a little loving, and he in turn gives them quiet love and maybe even a lick or two.”

Riesberg said a person never knows who or what they will run into at the Upper Room, “but I like to think you will always encounter the love and understanding of God.”

It has now been seven years since Riesberg received her divine inspiration to establish the Upper Room, and she said God has been with her and helping her along the way. “Every time I have a doubt about what and why I am doing this, the Lord will reassure me in some way,” she said.  “It truly is his undertaking.”

Riesberg said the experience has taught her to turn all her “needs, inabilities and frustrations over to the real manager of the business, and that is the Lord himself.”

Cover image: Kathy Riesberg, operator of the Upper Room Christian gift shop, is shown with some of the faith-related items she sells. (Contributed photo)