Tony Kolaski, owner of Chicago’s Loyal Casket Co., takes pride in the custom work his shop puts into people’s death beds. If you’re trying to go out in style, Kolaski has the colors and trimmings to send you on your way to the other side.
The company has been around since the 1940’s. Like many “Mom and Pop” shops in Chicago, it started off in a basement. At one point, the company grew to 22 locations. But due to the economy more people are burning their loved ones to ashes to save a few bucks, according to Kolaski. So they’ve downsized. Drastically.
They’re down to one location in East Garfield Park. What used to be a staff of 20 is now a staff of 10.
Inside the casket shop workers of Polish descent take part in the custom casket making rituals. Step inside the skylit shop and you see each employee fulfilling their role. The buffer, the painter, the driver, and the sewing team are all there. So are brothers Tony and Jerry Kolaski, who pick up phones, handle customers and manage orders.
There’s no computer anywhere. Tony types up any paperwork he has to on an old typewriter and hires an accountant for any digital mess.
One by one the caskets go through each process of being buffed, painted, coated, heated and buffed again. The monotonous routines take over the atmosphere. The guys in the main room take their time walking back and forth with each casket from station to station.
The woman have their own room out back where they sew and stitch together the inner workings of these caskets as they jam to Polka shows on Chicago’s Polskie radio station WPNA 1490 AM.
Watch the video if you haven’t already!