Casket Store Gets Buried, Founders Talk

By Maureen Mespell
By Max Resnik

May 4, 2012 Updated May 4, 2012 at 5:23 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The founders of a casket store to be located at Glenbrook Square say they were given no warning or reason for why the mall chose to terminate their lease.

‘Til We Meet Again casket store, which specializes in custom made, personalized caskets created to celebrate or represent the lifestyle of a deceased individual, began their correspondence with Glenbrook Square in September 2011 about opening a store inside the mall. According to founders Nathan Smith and Traci Cone, there was undeniable buzz and excitement over having the store in the mall.

“It went all the way up. It went through level after level. Every Tuesday they have a meeting and it went from the local level management, to the next level, to the next, all the way up to the corporate level in Chicago,” says Cone.

“And basically the decision was handed down from corporate, with the approval down to the local level, giving the local mall management the authorization to open the store,” according to Smith.

‘Til We Meet Again was given a 4,000 square foot space within the mall to host their business. Smith and Cone say their franchisees began remodeling the store, spending upwards of $100,000, in late April as they prepared to open May 11. On May 1, they were informed by Glenbrook Square that the store would no longer be accepted in the mall. When they asked the mall why they were being forced out, they say the mall told them “because we can.”

Smith and Cone say they were shocked that the plug was pulled on their store. They say they were under the impression that the mall was fully supportive of their endeavor and knew exactly what type of product they were selling.

“The leasing manager was very supportive and pushed very hard to get the program through. They had two videos to view. They had a number of pictures of the store. They even had the opportunity to look through our product catalogue. So there was no surprise as to what our store was, who we were or how it was represented. They even approved all of the construction prior to them revoking the lease.”

Indiana’s NewsCenter reached out to Glenbrook and was told the following:

“We don’t provide information or comments regarding agreements between our company and our licensees.”

“There was no indication whatsoever that one, there were either questions or concerns, or that this was going to happen. It just happened,” says Smith.

Smith and Cone say they have repeatedly tried to reach out to Glenbrook and its managers about the lease termination. They say that when they contact the company, they are informed that no matter how they phrase their question, the answer is the same:

“We are exercising the right to terminate this agreement. Why? Because we can. And we don’t have to tell you why per the same agreement,” according to Cone.

Both Smith and Cone say they will not speculate as to the reason for the terminated lease beyond the mall’s “because we can” statement. They do say that they have received interest from Fort Wayne families about the store and their product.

The founders say they will not fight the mall to recover the costs of the renovations already performed and say the mall has not offered any compensation beyond the initial deposit. They say they will offer 100 percent of the money spent to the franchisees.

Smith and Cone say they are exploring other options in Fort Wayne.

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