‘You got to wait’: Headstones in short supply thanks to COVID-19

Coronavirus

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — We’ve seen how the pandemic has affected nearly every industry across the country, but one business you may not have thought of, headstone engraving, has also been negatively impacted.

The quarries the stones come from across the country were all shut down for much of last year. Now, many companies are still working to catch up, and it’s leading to delays of up to four months for people looking for the perfect piece to honor their lost loved ones.

“Usually, I have my stones by now,” owner of Muskegon Monument & Stone Co. Brooks Wheeler said. “I usually have a whole bunch of stones here and I don’t have as many as I usually do.”

For the first time in the 37 years he’s worked at Muskegon Monument & Stone, Wheeler is running out of rock.

“I have stuff that’s on order that usually I have shipped here by now. But the quarries were all closed down last year, so they had a hard time getting the blocks where I get my stones from. So, they’re a little bit behind,” Wheeler said. “I get most of my stuff from Georgia, and so all the stone places down there are behind on their orders. It’s slowed things up here, that’s for sure.”

Despite working out of a building built in 1901, Wheeler is never behind, except of course, the occasional eight ball he’s sandblasting into a headstone.

“I got to have my stones for me to do my orders, so I been selling a lot of my stock that I have here,” Wheeler said. “You can’t make mistakes when you’re running low on stock.”

But what you see on the showroom floor isn’t necessarily what you get — that depends on you.

“Their stones tell stories, if they let me,” Wheeler said. “I take pride in my work. I’ve lost my mom and my dad, and I know how important it is to make sure that stone is right.”

From Corvettes to fighter jets and Cadillacs to cubbies, Wheeler channels every person’s passion into their stone, making each one as unique as the person they’re memorializing.

“I’ve done over 12,000 stones, personally,” Wheeler said. “But I get to do lots of cool stuff. It keeps it interesting, keeps it fun and I know it makes the grieving process easier for them too.”

The only question is: With no end to the supply chain hiccup in sight, how long do you have to wait?

“You got to wait. I tell people, ‘You got to wait.’ It’s better to wait and get exactly what you want than to do something that you’re just wanting to do in a hurry,” Wheeler said. “I’m a handcrafter. I don’t do any computerated, stencils. I do it all by hand. The work has changed for other places, but not for here. We do it right and right now, that takes a little longer.”

The pandemic itself has not affected the prices of the stones, despite slowing the process. Rising gas prices, however, have increased shipping costs, which in turn has been reflected in the final sale price slightly.

Wheeler says it’s unclear when things will return to their pre-pandemic pace.

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