Fort Wayne residents have options when they shop for caskets – but the selection isn’t at the mall. And it isn’t confined to funeral homes.
At least two retailers sell caskets and other funeral-related items from stores in local shopping centers. Their locations are at opposite sides of the city, and their prices are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Hicks Caskets, Monuments & More in Southgate Plaza is a discount casket company. Prices range from $895 to $1,495.
Carmen Hicks, who has worked in the funeral industry for about 10 years, bought the business in September after its previous owner decided to move out of town.
Previously, Hicks has worked with families to plan funerals, assisted in directing funerals and even led processions to the cemetery.
Her goal is to offer a low-cost alternative to families struggling to cover funeral costs.
“It’s not just a casket store for me, it’s a mission for me,” she said. “It’s caring for grieving families.”
Memories of You also opened last fall. The store is in a small strip center at 6413 Lima Road.
The retailer specializes in personalized and customized caskets that range from $3,200 to $4,000 or more. The business caters to people who want caskets that celebrate the deceased’s military service, motorcycle ownership, sports team preference, university allegiance or other interests.
Options include printing photos of family members on a casket’s exterior or lining it with leather.
Dawn Blomeke, president and CEO, described the store as “more of a gift shop with caskets.” Caskets are placed in a separate viewing room.
“We found that in Fort Wayne, people weren’t comfortable coming in and viewing caskets and touching them,” she said.
That’s why the showroom is dominated by decorative urns, garden-sized memorials, picture frames, engraved jewelry, keepsake boxes and woven blankets. The main focus is on remembering the dead, but the store also sells a small selection of items for anniversaries, first communions, graduations and other special occasions, Blomeke said.
Memories of You is in the space formerly occupied by a Til We Meet Again franchise store. That’s the company that in May 2012 tried to open a store in Glenbrook Square but was turned away. Glenbrook officials declined at the time to comment on the decision.
Til We Meet Again co-founder Nathan Smith last week said the company has parted ways with its Fort Wayne franchisee, who operated for about one year in the Lima Road location.
Blomeke, who is a co-owner of Memories of You, was a supplier to Til We Meet Again before buying out the local franchisee. She split with Smith in order to take the store in a different direction.
Even so, caskets are available. Blomeke balked at any suggestion that her products are deluxe, however, saying her prices are similar to those found in funeral homes but the products are more personalized.
“You get what you want for a reasonable price,” she said.
The retailer, which plans to start selling franchises this year, can deliver a casket 24 hours after a sales contract is signed, she said.
Both stores deliver caskets to local funeral homes.
Federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets bought elsewhere and prohibits them from charging a casket handling fee.
Blomeke’s store is a destination for shoppers. The small strip center doesn’t draw high traffic volumes.
Hicks also attracts customers who have a timely need. But more than a few Southgate shoppers simply wander in, whether they mistake her door for the insurance office next door or spy her sign from across the way.
“Just yesterday,” Hicks said, “I had someone come in and say, ‘Oh, I was over at the cleaners, and I can’t believe I never saw this here before.’ ”