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Mall reneges on casket slot

Glenbrook leaves Waterloo business, staff out in cold

– Glenbrook Square officials likely sealed a casket company’s fate in Fort Wayne.

After inking a one-year lease with ‘Til We Meet Again, the shopping mall did an about-face and rescinded the agreement, leaving an area business – and 23 full-time employees – dismayed. A Waterloo company spent more than $100,000 on startup costs and renovating a 4,100-square-foot space at the Fort Wayne mall.

‘Til We Meet Again planned to sell custom funeral products, such as sports-themed caskets and related merchandise. The business was going to be near such outlets as Dairy Queen and Foot Locker on the mall’s upper level.

It is uncertain how much of its investment the Waterloo operation will recoup.

Nathan Smith is president and CEO of The Willow Group, which owns the custom casket and urn business based in Wichita, Kan. He said the Waterloo franchise is referring questions to him.

“They’re devastated,” Smith said of events that unfolded this week. “One day they’re told to stop working because there were some things that needed straightening out and then the next day they’re told they have five days to vacate.”

General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago runs Glenbrook Square but declined to comment.

“We don’t provide information or comments regarding agreements between our company and licensees,” said David Keating, vice president of corporate communications.

Smith said owners of the Waterloo business “haven’t given up and are just trying to regroup.”

“We’re trying to see if we can find something, … but we decided to locate only in enclosed malls because of the traffic,” said Smith, who has two casket locations in Kansas. “If things don’t work out I’ll gladly refund the $40,000 (franchise fee), but there are other costs like attorney, product and other costs they have to deal with.”

Glenbrook’s website had advertised ‘Til We Meet Again’s grand opening, but the ad had come down by week’s end. Workers spent two weeks preparing the storefront.

“It’s all shocking,” Smith said. “We’re still trying to pick up the pieces and figure things out. I begged for a reason why, but wasn’t given one.”