Carrie Rengers

Custom casket shop to expand into Hutch

The YouTube video "Death Comes to the Mall "has created more than just curious customers for 'Til We Meet Again , the custom casket store that opened at Towne West Square in March 2010.

It's also leading to a second store, this one in Hutchinson, in what owners Nathan Smith and Traci Cone hope will be a franchised chain.

"This whole thing has just taken ... off and just taken us all by storm," Smith says.

"I expected us to be open at least two years before we started putting (more) stores in."

Hutchinson residents James and Robin McComas are two of the more than 120,000 people who have seen one of the videos that customers have made about the unique store.

"We actually drove down to take a look and see what it was," James McComas says.

Then, Robin McComas' father died, and her family ordered an urn from 'Til We Meet Again that was customized to look like her father's Harley-Davidson .

"It was a wonderful experience in the sense of closure for so many people," James McComas says.

"Right after that, I kept hounding Nathan. 'Hey, we'd really like to be partners with you.' "

He says the biggest trigger to open the store was when he lost his job as vice president for operations at Promise Regional Medical Center due to restructuring.

"It opened the door to this," McComas says.

The Hutchinson store will open at 306 N. Main St. on May 19.

"I'm calling mine the Main Street model," McComas says. "It's designed for rural America. It's a little bit different market niche."

He says he and his wife, a nurse, "have that need that we have to feel needed" and want to help bring closure to others.

"They know everybody," Smith says of the McComases' Hutchinson contacts,"... and they really have a passion for what we're doing here."

Smith says he's also closed a deal to license Kansas State University logos on caskets and urns and is working with Wichita State University to do the same.

Smith says he's getting help and advice from Pizza Hut co-founder Dan Carney , who is on his informal board of advisers.

"He's guiding us in making this thing work the right way," Smith says.

"Things move reasonably fast anymore," Carney says, "but there's some work to do there before there's any licensing."

Carney has an interest in possibly opening some stores in Florida.

"I just like new concepts that have a chance of moving quickly, that's all," he says.

"There is really a hole in the marketplace that's not being exploited there, and there's not very many of those left."

Carney isn't interested in talking with people about possible plans yet. He says the concept needs more history and proven numbers.

Smith says seven groups, most of them out of state, want to franchise the concept.

"We're looking at 12 to 24 stores by this time next year," he says.

"It has truly been amazing ... just the support from Wichita and people like Mr. Carney and the McComases who get what we're doing and really want to be a part of it," Smith says.

"To me, it's baffling. I thought this was a dream I was only crazy enough to do."

Expanded Hours

When Mark and Summer Guerrero opened After Hours Auto Repair three years ago, they figured the corner of 47th South and Seneca would be the perfect place for their business.

"We wanted the corner so bad and figured it would be a great start," Summer Guerrero says. "We've watched businesses come and go, and we wanted to bring something great to the south side of Wichita."

Now they're going, too, but not far.

The shop is moving to 3,500 square feet at 2606 W. Pawnee, near Meridian.

Adam Clements of Builders Inc. handled the deal.

"We can see our dreaming coming true more so" in that spot, Summer Guerrero says.

The current shop, in a former gas station, is "just a lobby and two bays," she says.

The new shop has six bays, a "wonderful parking lot," two offices, a lobby and a restroom strictly for customers.

Guerrero says she's thinking of her female customers in particular.

"When they come in our shop, I want them to be comfortable."

Guerrero is a firefighter. She says the repair shop, which handles all kinds of automotive repairs, is her husband's dream.

"Mark is such an honest and good mechanic," she says. "I see that this is his gift."

His mother, Evelyn Fleming , also works at the shop.

"She's their counselor," her daughter-in-law says of Fleming helping customers. "Seriously, when you're waiting, you're just so stressed out."

The new shop will open June 1, and there will be a grand opening celebration on June 18.

More tax trouble

An almost $62,000 federal tax lien isn't all the group running the Crown Uptown Theatre is facing.

Earlier this week, Have You Heard? reported that Uptown Management Group , which took over the theater near Douglas and Hillside in 2009, is behind on federal taxes.

According to state figures filed this week, the group also owes almost $84,000 in state taxes.

"Well, that's not accurate because they're estimating," says Robert Brinkley , the group's manager.

He can't say how much the group owes.

"We're still working out the details. I really don't want to say something that's inaccurate."

Brinkley says he doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea, though.

"I can tell you this ... we're moving forward."

One thing that hasn't moved forward is the costume shop Brinkley previously told Have You Heard? that he planned.

He hoped to open Uptown Emporium & Costume Shop in the former Persian Bazaar space next to Crown Uptown. Brinkley says he planned to have it open by Halloween.

"We just didn't get it done in time."

He can't say if he'll open it this year.

"I don't know."

You don't say

"In the end, however, it seems as though it was the recession that ended Pelton's tenure at Cessna, like thousands of other Cessna employees who have found themselves out of a job despite their hard work and devotion to the brand."

—An article in Flying Magazine on chairman and CEO Jack Pelton's departure from Cessna Aircraft Co.

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