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 August 22, 2003 

Death of Salesmen?: New prohibition threatens life on "Coffin" Street

If merchandise has to do with funerals, it must be kept out of public sight, according to a new regulation.

If you see a shop with no sign on the entrance, the showcase covered with blinds or jalousie and confused salesmen outside, you're probably on Nar-Dos Street in Yerevan, in front of a store that sells coffins.

Nar-Dos Street, known locally as "Coffins Street" for its numerous funeral accessories shops, became the first target of anti-coffins' action initiated by the Yerevan City Council last week.

According to a new proclamation, coffins, funeral wreaths and any such paraphernalia concerning burial must be kept inside the business that sells the wares.

Further, there should be no sign on the entrance of the shops nor posted anywhere nearby saying anything (such as "Coffins for Sale") about the merchandise inside. The doors of the shops must remain closed, with curtains blocking view inside.

Council members say they were urged to initiate the prohibition to prevent Yerevantsis from experiencing stress and discomfort and an impending sense of doom while walking along the street.

It's only been a few days since the regulation took effect, but owners of the shops say the new reform has already affected their business.

Avet M. Ghazaryan, owner of one of the shops, who successfully was running his business last week, is at a loss today.

"A week ago it was possible to sell several coffins a week," says Ghazaryan, who also owns a workshop that makes coffins. "Last week I sold not a one. People who come to Nar-Dos street to buy a coffin pass by my shop, as they don't know what is behind the closed curtains. And I can do nothing."

Early this week police officers on patrol noticed that the door on Ghazaryan's shop was half-opened and coffins were seen from the street. Ghazaryan was told to close the door and warned that the next time he would face sanctions.

"Last week they (police) took down an advertisement on the entrance of the shop, for which I paid $200. This week they said if the coffins are seen from the street they would confiscate the coffins," the owner says.

Ghazaryan, who lived in the United States for 12 years, agrees that all funeral accessories should be concentrated in one place. He says it's that way in California, where his parents run a similar business.

But he does not accept that such drastic changes should be imposed in one day.

"When I established the business in Armenia, I acquired all the necessary certificates and no one told me that the conditions must be changed," he says. "Some businessmen in Armenia hide their income. I pay all the taxes and it turned that I have nothing to hide, but the goods."

One of Ghazaryan's workmen, 78-year old Stepan Karapetyan shares the owner's concerns, realizing that his salary is directly connected to the number of coffins sold.

"My boss said if things get worse, he would return to the US. I will lose my income and will have to survive only on my pension of 5,000 drams (about $9)."

Karapetyan has been a coffin maker for 40 years. He says he remembers that every time a new mayor has been appointed, he has vowed to sweep the merchandise of death from "Coffin" Street.

"Instead of cleaning Yerevan's streets from the garbage, they want to clean the street from the coffins," Karapetyan says.

In all there are eight shops selling funeral accessories on Nar-Dos Street and several shops for funeral flowers, which opened on the street about 10 years ago.

Avert Kazaryan's shop used to have a sign advertising coffins. Now no one can find him he says.

There hardly appears a reason to call it "Coffin" Street now. "Parquet" Street might be a better name, or "Spare Part" Street, as those two businesses now dominate the landscape.

The coffin dealers on Nar-Dos street say they worry that under the new conditions they will not survive the competition of some 100 craftsmen who make and sell coffins from their homes.

Others say that the reason for the new reform is clan economy in Armenia.

"The sugar, oil, corn cigarettes - everything is owned by oligarchs. Now they want to control coffins production too," says one of the coffin shop owners.

The coffins merchants do not believe that the reform is aimed at making people's lives happier --as the rest of the similar shops in Yerevan continue their business with funeral flowers seen through the window.

Officials from the Trade Department of the City Council say that there were several attempts to abandon the advertisement and display of funeral accessories.

They say that this time the new reform will touch all the shops throughout the city and hope that the end result will be that all funeral-associated items will be in the centralized undertaker's offices shops.

Yerevantsis opinions are different toward the coffin issue.

Some admit that it is better when there are no coffins along the roads, especially because the grievous goods distract attention of drivers.

Others say that knowing where to go for the delicate service is convenient, because the preparations for funeral lasts only a day or two in Armenia and people do not have much time to go through the closed shops and guess where the coffins are sold.

Whatever the opinions are the coffins reform impacted the life of over two hundred people whose livelihood is connected to dying.

The coffin makers from Nar-Dos Street say they are going to apply to the City Council and ask either to let them place signs, or let them display the goods through the store windows.


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