To survive, bookstores should be more like funeral homes (were)

Interesting post over at The Shatzkin Files, “The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing.”  What will it take for bookstores to survive in an era of e-readers and online book purchasing?  One possibility mentioned is to emulate Soho independent bookseller Sarah McNally (of McNally-Jackson), who is “taking steps to move beyond books to retailing design-heavy but perhaps-more-enduring retail goods like art and furniture.”

What a smart idea!  Did you know that funeral homes once doubled as furniture stores?  I had thought it was a Midwestern phenomenon, but it was apparently true all over the United States.  The news story below comes from Amarillo, Texas, where a local museum mounted an exhibition that focused on the unlikely retail-service combination.

Apparently such multitasking also occurred in England, as seen in the photo below from the Durham County Council archives, taken in the 1930s in Easington Village.  The sign on the door reads: R. Delanoy & Sons: Joiners, Cartwrights, Motor Body Builders & Funeral Furnishers.

carriage maker and undertaker

More locally, below is a photo from the Ashland (Wisconsin) Historical Society, from the online “Recollection Wisconsin” program sponsored by Wisconsin Library Services (and hosted by the Milwaukee Public Library).  Check out the sign for “Angvick House Furnisher/Undertaker.”

Angvick House Furnisher/Undertaker

I guess it makes sense that someone with carpentry skills might make both furniture and coffins, not to mention carriages and motor bodies.  And a funeral home could easily double as a furniture showroom.

Perhaps it makes equal sense for bookstores to diversify.  At the same time you bought a novel you could also pick out a comfortable chair and footstool, an attractive table lamp, hot cocoa and coffee mugs, a warm afghan throw, firewood, maybe some music CDs—everything you might need to spend a cozy evening at home reading by the fireplace.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Books and reading, History, Life, Popular culture, Writing, blogging and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to To survive, bookstores should be more like funeral homes (were)

  1. paulrwaibel says:

    Very interesting. I have visited two old department stores, now antique stores, that included a funeral home. They are both in Mississippi. Also, when I was in college and working part time in a department store in downtown Lynchburg, I knew an elderly gentleman who grew up in rural Virginia. His father owned a general store that sold everything you could think of, including funeral services.


  2. haha… the pictures evoke nostalgic feelings. plus, the proposal is quite sensible, ma’am… 🙂


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