A cookie, a casket and a sweater: At some malls now, you can buy all three in the same trip.
At the Westfield West Covina mall in Southern California, fabled funeral home Forest Lawn has installed an informational kiosk next to a display of summer beachwear.
Forest Lawn spokesman Ben Sussman tells ABC News that the mortuary has five such locations now, in five different shopping malls in Southern California, the most recent one in Burbank.
While the kiosks display cremation urns and other funerary products, no sales are made. "They are informational only," Sussman says. Forest Lawn staffers are on hand to answer potential customers' questions about funeral arrangements, and to schedule follow-up conversations, either at customers' homes or at Forest Lawn's several mortuary locations.
"We've gotten a lot of positive response," he says. "Customers find this a relaxed and casual way to approach the subject."
Manufacturer/retailer Til We Meet Again (TWMA) has been selling its caskets and urns out of malls since 2010. According to CEO Nathan Smith, it currently has stores at malls in Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Kansas and Louisiana.
The typical reaction of somebody who wanders into TWMA, says Smith, is "Oh, wow! I went to the mall to get a shirt, and here I am in a casket store." Most people, he says, are not aware that you can buy a casket or urn from anyone you want—you don't have to buy them from a funeral home.
Til We Meet Again specializes in custom work. If the deceased loved to hunt, they can turn his (or her) shotgun into an urn for ashes. Someone who loved vintage cars can be buried in a casket in the shape of a fire-red 1950s Mercury hot rod. The family of a deceased fireman can choose to put his ashes in an urn in the shape of an old fashioned brass extinguisher, with a space provided for the deceased's service badge.
TWMA has created custom urns for the ashes of pool players (a pool cue), golfers (hollowed-out golf balls, one for each member of the family, so that everyone can share a portion of the deceased's ashes). "We can be more creative with an urn than a casket," says Smith. "A family brought us their father's old tackle box that he'd loved, all beat up. We duplicated it in wood, just like the original, with trays that moved in and out."
A dying young man who loved the movie "Ghost Busters," wanted his ashes put in a replica of a Ghost Busters "spirit trap," complete with blinking LED lights. "What makes our customer different," says Smith, "is their passion. They don't want something grey or black or standard. They don't fit the grey box, the steel urn. We get a lot of motorcycle people. And Baby Boomers. Boomers are people used to getting what they want."
Getting into malls, including their flagship mall in Wichita, he says, was difficult at first. "Now, malls that wouldn't even return our calls at the beginning want to see us."
Herewith, a few examples of funeral products you might see on your next trip to the mall.
|Til We Meet Again: Flagship Store|
The flagship store of Til We Meet Again, located in Towne West Square Mall in Wichita, Kan., opened in 2010. Company co-founders Nathan Smith and Traci Smith-Cone say it has become a tourist attraction, with locals bringing out of towners to see it. "It's not a typical mall store," says Smith-Cone. "You can't staff this with teenagers working part time." Most walk-in customers, she says, exclaim, "Holy cow! There's caskets in the mall!"
|1950s Mercury Hot Rod Casket|
The most expensive casket yet made by Til We Meet Again, this celebration of a 1950s Mercury hot rod, priced at $5,500 and up, costs about the same as what a customer might expect to pay for a non-custom casket at a standard funeral home (in other words: not one situated in between J. Crew and Mrs. Fields).
This custom pink casket with zebra interior was originally requested by a family who lost their daughter in a car accident, says Traci Smith-Cone of Til We Meet Again. With the permission of the deceased's family, it is now offered as part of the mall chain's standard inventory.
Another of Til We Meet Again's mall store offerings, the Western Casket can be customized with different Wild West images, metals and types of wood. For the deceased who wants to confront the afterlife loaded for bear.