Posted by: cassymuronaka | July 29, 2010

The LA Coroner’s gift store

What started as a joke for the Los Angeles Department of Coroner has become an unusual source of income for the department.

Most Angelenos and tourists are unaware of the existence of the gift store called Skeletons in the Closet, a thriving but unheralded operation run by the coroner’s office. Located east of downtown Los Angeles in a historic building that once housed the county’s general hospital at the turn of the last century, the shop has been in existence for the 16 years and offers a variety of gift items and clothing featuring what has become the most recognizable sign of a forensic death scene: the chalk body outline.

Skeletons in the Closet was created after a now-retired secretary gave an inspired gag gift to co-workers. That secretary worked for Tony Hernandez, who still is director of the coroner’s office.

“She had a t-shirt made for doctors working next door in the department. They loved it,” said current store manager Edna Pereyda.

This joke gift inspired requests for more of the same.

Pereyda who also began working at the department as a secretary, has been running and ordering for the gift shop for five years now. She says the store soon will be entering the season when items begin flying off the shelves.

“September and October are the busiest months of the year,” she said, explaining that the department sometimes hosts a store at the Los Angeles County Fair. “People want to be the coroner for Halloween. We sell out on scrub tops and bottoms, black t-shirts and black gym bags.”

Students also like to carry the courier bags, or “portfolio cases,” to school.

Skeleton in the Closet began by selling coffee mugs and t-shirts. The operation literally was housed in part of a closet, which it eventually outgrew. It is still located inside the beautiful old brick building, but quarters are much larger now and continue to burst with inventory.

“Every year we get something new,” said Pereyda, this year’s latest addition being water bottles in a host of colors.

Some of classic items now are available in different colors and styles. For example, in addition to now selling the highly sought-after white and black beach towels with contrasting body outline colors, the towels now are available in navy, hunter green and white.

Most popular items are the towels, t-shirts (size X-large sells out the fastest), and car shades.

The store does well because it has a lot of repeat customers who come in for birthday gifts and parties.

“It’s pretty interesting how people find us now,” Pereyda said. “It’s almost all word of mouth.”

One of the organizations that became aware of the store’s existence is an offbeat business called Coffin Couches, which, as you might expect, creates sofas from coffins, furniture items that promise “eternal comfort,” according to the company business card. Several years ago, the manufacturer designed and donated a custom not-for-sale couch on permanent display at Skeletons in the Closet.

Edna Peredia said that Skeletons in the Closet is about to begin an advertising and marketing campaign in locales such as Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles International Airport, in order to draw in more tourists. It also is in the process of overhauling its website, and creating a direct link to the county coroner’s web page.

Among those who are well aware of the existence of Skeletons in the Closet is the Clark County Coroner’s Office, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and “home” to the original CSI television show.

“They opened their store about 2 1/2 or 3 years ago,” said Edna Pereyda “And they thanked us for giving to them the idea.”

Skeletons in the Closet
1104 North Mission Road
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 343-0760
M-F 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

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