Bringing Death To The Shopping Mall: Selling Caskets At The Kiosk

Malls have long been the place to "shop till you drop." In Southern California, Forest Lawn, a funeral industry leader, has made them places to shop before you drop.

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The American Funeral Industry is changing. In recent years, stores like Costco have begun selling caskets, jewelry made from cremation remains, even burials at sea. And now in Southern California, one of the biggest names in the funeral business, Forest Lawn Cemetery, is trying to reach people in a place where they live and breathe - the shopping mall. More from Gloria Hillard.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: Navigating the kiosk at the Glendale Galleria, shoppers are offered everything from beauty tips to hot neck wraps to vapor cigarettes before arriving at a more tranquil place located between LensCrafters and Footlocker, Forest Lawn.

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HILDA CARRABAS: You know, there's people that they won't stop, and then there's people that will stop.

HILLARD: Hilda Carrabas (ph) is a sales manager with the famed Southern California funeral chain. In the bloom of lavender lighting, there are designer urns on display. No sales are made here, but there are calendars and brochures for the taking.

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CARRABAS: If they wanted it to talk about just, you know, what's involved in the cremation, we would give them this. If they want to talk about a traditional funeral service, we would...

HILLARD: Passersby appear to be in a pretty good mood, and there's a scent of warm pretzels in the air.

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EVALICE LUCIANO: It just seems sort of out of place.

HILLARD: Twenty-eight-year-old shopper Evalice Luciano (ph) said she thought the funeral kiosk had a weird factor.

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LUCIANO: I don't want to think about that when I'm shopping necessarily.

HILLARD: Forest Lawn has kiosks in five malls in Southern California, each in locations near Forest Lawn Memorial Parks. Spokesman Ben Sussman says people might be intimidated walking into a mortuary or cemetery.

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BEN SUSSMAN: So this is a place for us to reach families and give them the information that they might be looking for in a very casual, comfortable environment for them.

ROBERT FELLS: I think the kiosk is just sort of an extension of having an Internet presence.

HILLARD: Robert Fells is with the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. He says the mall may be the perfect place for getting people to think about what is often the last thing on their shopping list.

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FELLS: The shopping mall is just one more iron in the fire, so to speak, of that modern 21st-century marketing approach. We've come along way from the day when people used to go door-to-door to knock on people's doors.

HILLARD: That wasn't very popular, he says. The colorful urns seem to be the attention grabber here, some made of hand-blown glass. I asked Forest Lawn sales manager Hilda Carrabas if people sometimes mistake them for vases.

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CARRABAS: Sometimes they will make a comment like, oh, I didn't realize that this is an urn. I thought it was maybe, like, a cookie jar or something like that.

HILLARD: The Los Angeles Dodgers themed cremation urn is clearly a crowd favorite here. It's the one sometimes mistaken for a cookie jar. It's blue and white, the colors of the Dodgers, and adorned with the Major League Baseball seal and a baseball.

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HILLARD: A real baseball.

CARRABAS: A real baseball on the top and seals the actual urn and it has...

HILLARD: Making his way from the food court, John Greg (ph) says at first he thought the kiosk was kind of strange, but now he's used to it. And he admits, it's got him wondering.

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JOHN GREG: I am getting a little older so I need to start thinking about things like that.

HILLARD: Funeral trade associations credit baby boomers with being more open to funeral preplanning. But interestingly, the boomers were the ones who seem to pick up their pace when they walk by. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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