ANDERSON – Anderson used to be known as a place where residents manufactured products.
While it may no longer be true on a large scale, some small businesses are still creating a product from start to finish – and of a remarkable quality.
C.J. Boots Casket Co. employs approximately 30 craftsmen who fashion eternal resting boxes in exquisite styles and shapes. They daily transform stacks of raw lumber into completely finished products in downtown Anderson.
“A good number of caskets are being imported from China,” said Jim Rogers, vice president. “This is new to our industry over the last eight years or so. The acceptance is becoming wider. But everything we build is handmade. We craft each piece as an art and each one is handled with kid gloves and made here in Anderson.”
Not only is the work performed locally, but most of the lumber is from the Hoosier state. Eighty percent of the hardwood used is harvested in Indiana. Fifteen distributors across the United States sell the products far and wide. C.J. Boots Caskets have been shipped to Hawaii, Canada and even the United Kingdom.
“It’s surprising how much this job is like my pastoral ministries,” said Rogers. “I am dealing with people in need and providing care and nourishment. Sometimes we create something unique for clients with special requests.”
One family was forced to bury their little boy who died from leukemia. They wanted his casket to be as much like his bedroom as possible. The company designed his coffin with denim interior (because he loved to wear jeans) embroidered with his favorite cartoon characters. A panel along the lid displayed screen-printed pictures of the boy as he grew. Two Louisville Slugger baseball bats adorned the exterior and small Lego figures appeared at the corners.
“This provided a great comfort to the family,” said Rogers. “And one of the greatest parts is that it is done right here in Anderson.”
Chris Boots, a cabinet maker, began the company in 1999 after building furniture in his garage for some time. He crafted a casket, slid it into the back of his truck, drove around Indiana and sold it.
He quickly enlisted friend and fellow cabinet maker Rip Denman into the business.
“He showed me the casket in his garage and we talked about the industry,” said Denman. “The Lord said this is what I was going to do. This is where the Lord had led me and where I’ll be until he tells me to go somewhere else. It’s hard to come in here and look at something someone will use when they die, but we are doing a service for people. We want the last thing they have to mean something.”
After opening the business in an old bowling alley in Lapel, Boots saw the business grow by leaps and bounds in the first year. Moving to a 24,000-square-foot facility on 38th Street in Anderson, they were able to meet their demand until 2011. Now the company is operating in a 44,000-square-foot building downtown at 516 Meridian St.
“When you walk into a funeral home, you have choices,” said Rogers. “One choice is Madison County labor.”