CHINCHILLA – A day after they lost their mother and a few hours after they had purchased her cemetery plot, two middle-aged men and their sister visited Sultzer Monument on a rainy Saturday to enter into a transaction triggered by human mortality.
There’s no rush, Michaeleen Sultzer, the 79-year-old owner of the business, told the customers. Over the last 46 years, she has said just that many times in this building.
“Because unlike a car, we’re selling a product that’s there forever,” Sultzer said after the siblings left.
Sultzer Monument, on Northern Boulevard, has supplied monuments to cemeteries throughout the region. They have arranged for monuments to be shipped to White Plains, N.Y., Philadelphia and Arlington National Cemetery.
Thomas J. Sultzer purchased the former gas station at 226 Northern Blvd. in 1959 and reconfigured the building into an office. A crane girder was installed in the rear of the building to allow heavy monuments to be brought inside for lettering.
“We never did do a shop here,” said Sultzer, a native of Lackawanna County. “In the end, we chose not to have lettering facilities here.”
She married Thomas in 1969 and immediately became involved with the business. When her husband died in 1987, she took over and ran things herself. A single employee, Joe Slack, was hired 23 years ago and sits behind a second desk in the office.
“This is it,” Sultzer said. “Just the two of us.”
Her business card lists the store’s three specialties: monuments, markers and mausoleums.
The graves of people in many cemeteries are marked by rows and rows of upright monuments. Made of granite, they consist of two parts – the base and the tablet.
“In the granite industry, the tablet is usually referred to as a ‘die,’” Sultzer said. “But we kind of shy away from the word die when we’re selling a monument.”
Across the room, leaning against Slack’s desk, is a bronze flat marker. A sales example, it displays a woman’s name, birth and death years. The markers are set on a granite base and then placed at lawn level in a cemetery. They’ve become popular ways of marking the resting places of people who have been cremated.
Flat markers can make it difficult to locate a resting place, especially in large cemeteries.
“You can walk around 15 or 20 minutes or more before you find that grave,” Sultzer said.
Sultzer Monument has changed since 1969. Cremation is a common request in many wills and some funeral directors have begun offering monuments as a sideline.
“At one time, there were three monument dealers on this highway within a mile of each other,” Sultzer said. “I’m the only one left.”
There are usually about 40 upright monuments on display outside the office. The inventory is for practical and logistical reasons.
After Sultzer has had a chance to speak to the customers – she has a number of chairs arranged in a semicircle around her desk – she has them walk around the lot. She asks them to consider all the shapes, colors and sizes.
“We need to know the size that’s allowed on the grave they’ve purchased,” Sultzer said. “Every cemetery has a different set of rules and regulations.”
As the highway near the business has been widened, Sultzer’s lot has been narrowed. When the boulevard was three lanes instead of five, it was easier to display the inventory of monuments, she said.
Much of the gray granite comes from quarries in Vermont. The colored pieces are imported from Africa, China, Scandinavia, India and elsewhere. When Sultzer orders from manufacturers, it can take up to 10 weeks for domestically-quarried monuments to arrive in Chinchilla, engraved and ready for placement. Overseas custom orders can take five months.
When a customer buys a tablet from the inventory, it is taken to a nearby shop for engraving.
Because people don’t pass away during banker’s hours, Sultzer frequently works nights and weekends. The business is closed on Sunday, but she meets with customers by appointment. Like a private party line, the business phone rings simultaneously in her house.
“I probably should be retired,” she said. “But I love what I do.”