I saw an ad on a diner placemat that made me think about this
article I wrote years ago for the Times Union at Albany. Then, I thought about what the editors really wanted out of it, but did not get and how supremely absurd the experience was. So until I get to writing about all of that… here is the article.
SCHENECTADY CASKET RETAILER QUIETLY MEETS A SENSITIVE NEED
CHRIS STURGIS Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION, Page: B1
Date: Monday, July 8, 1996
SCHENECTADY — A neatly lettered sheet of paper taped to the window puts the price at $1,995, but a funeral home would charge anywhere from $2,895 to $3,300 for it. The product is a glossy oak casket, arranged for display in the storefront window at 939 State St., home of Factory-Direct Caskets and Urns.
Owner Stephen Meyers, a licensed funeral director, said that a coffin store is more inevitable than unusual in the Capital Region.
“I just wanted to be first,” said Meyers, who noted that that national funeral home chains such as Service Corporation International and the Loewen Group have bought up small funeral homes and are increasingly buying up cemeteries and coffin stores.
Such stores already exist in other parts of the country, he said.
With sunlight pouring through the window on a sunny afternoon, the atmosphere was quite different from that of a lavishly appointed funeral parlor, where people speak in hushed voices, cloaking terms like death and burial in euphemisms as family members choose a casket.
The store, located on the first floor of a building that looks like it used to be a two-family house, has paneled walls, a desk, a few plain chairs and a telephone. On display are a few urns and three caskets with their lids open and prices clearly marked. A pressed cardboard box used to hold bodies for cremation is on display on an overhead shelf. Potential customers see the merchandise by appointment.
Meyers said coffin stores are growing in popularity because they generally have very low overhead. For example, a pressed cardboard coffin lined with a cornflower blue brocade fabric is on display for $395. Meyers says a funeral home would charge from $425 to $725 for it.
Federal law requires funeral homes to use coffins purchased elsewhere and prohibits the charging of handling fees in such cases, he said, noting that he often delivers the casket to wherever the family wishes, or stores it until the time comes.
Orders can range from a basic burial box to the top-of-the-line, carved-top mahogany coffin known as The Presidential, he said.
After three months in business, Meyers said Factory Direct has sold 11 coffins and a few urns for cremated remains.
“Out of the caskets that I’ve sold, nine people have taken it with them,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of people just put it in the back of their pickup and put in their barn. That was the aspect that surprised me, that people were taking it with them and storing it until their time of need.”
Meyers said his “pre-need” clients are generally choosing their own coffins, considering the colors and inquiring about the materials.
They don’t come right out and ask about comfort, but they do inquire about the “bed,” he said. In the brocade model, the body rests on straw or foam rubber, he said.
Talking about funeral arrangements “gives the deceased a say in what they would like,” Meyers said.
Meyers, who grew up in a family of funeral directors, and operates another completely separate business, Simplicity Funeral Home in Voorheesville, hasn’t made his own final arrangements.
“I’m only 32, and I intend to be around for a while,” he said, laughing.
Meyers says finger smudges on his display window are proof that his store is attracting attention.