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Multiple Factors Spark Surge In Sales Of Headstones

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a story of one more industry thriving in the pandemic. The granite industry reports higher demand for headstones. This is related to coronavirus. But the story is not quite as dark as it may seem. Here's Anna Van Dine of Vermont Public Radio.

ANNA VAN DINE, BYLINE: Buttura & Gherardi Granite Artisans is a headstone manufacturer in Vermont. At their plant, they make everything from small markers to large mausoleums. In recent years, demand for monuments has been increasing, but nothing like the surge in 2020, says company president Mark Gherardi.

MARK GHERARDI: It's extremely busy, busier than I've seen in the last 40 years.

VAN DINE: And yes, some of the increased demand for headstones is attributable to deaths in the pandemic, but not all of it.

CHRIS KUBAS: I've got a couple of different thoughts on it.

VAN DINE: Chris Kubas is with the Elberton Granite Association, the largest trade association of granite quarries and manufacturers in the U.S. He says that disruptions in international supply chains may have contributed to an uptick in domestic orders. He also thinks people had a bit more disposable income from savings on travel and entertainment.

KUBAS: People were looking at and saying, hey, we've always needed to get this headstone for, you know, our grandparents or for our parents or even for ourselves.

VAN DINE: Wait, did you get that? He's seeing a growing trend of people buying their own headstones well before they need them. In the funeral industry, they call this a pre-need purchase. The spike in demand is impacting manufacturers like Mark Gherardi in Vermont. His backlog is double what it typically is. And he's also seen an increase in these pre-need sales during the pandemic.

GHERARDI: I think the virus has kind of woken people up to the fact that, boy, you know, our mortality isn't as secure. It's - you never know. So people are taking care of business.

VAN DINE: Julie Grimaldi has seen this firsthand. She sells granite headstones at Wegenaar Monuments on Staten Island in New York. And she says she's seeing pre-need sales up by at least 30%.

JULIE GRIMALDI: I even see young people coming in. And that, to me, is, like, a really big surprise.

VAN DINE: One couple in their 30s bought their headstone recently. They had lost relatives to COVID-19.

GRIMALDI: You know, they're scared. So for a 30-year-old to come in and buy a stone for themselves and they have little children, that, to me - I cried. That hit home. I was like, wow. Wow.

VAN DINE: Sixty-five-year-old Pam Glass of Powderly, Texas, bought a headstone for herself and her husband last year.

PAM GLASS: It's nothing about being a control freak or anything, you know? It's just making it easier for your family at a time when they are grieving.

VAN DINE: The choice wasn't brought on by the pandemic. But Glass can see how that might happen. She had COVID herself in between vaccine doses. And while she was sick, it did cross her mind that if anything happened to her...

GLASS: I thought, at least I am prepared.

VAN DINE: She got better. But now she has a headstone waiting in a plot in a nearby cemetery.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Van Dine.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPY ACKROYD'S "CROFT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.