If you've wondered what's going on with the construction on Dempster Street, the longest-running locally-owned business in Morton Grove, is undergoing its first expansion since 1957.
The new $150,000 addition, projected for completion by the end of this month, is being built out to the sidewalk on Dempster for the home, operating at its present site since 1946 and owned by brothers Bill, Jim and Mike Simkins.
With more people having one-day services, which include the visitation and funeral in the same day, the funeral home needed more room to accommodate crowds that come in a two-hour visitation time, rather than spread throughout the evening as in a traditional wake, Jim Simkins explained.
“We’ve basically enlarged one of our chapels to be able to service larger visitations,” said Mike Simkins.
The addition will also modernize the building's appearance.
“We’ve dressed up our Dempster Street frontage to make what we consider our best advertising look a lot nicer."
Larger space will accommodate more on-site services
The funeral home, at 6521 Dempster, has seen pattern changes in its business, Mike Simkins explained. More families are electing an on-site memorial service, as opposed to going out to a church. The fact that the cremation rate has increased--Jim Simkins said cremations make up 38 to 40 percent of the home's business--has been a driving factor.
With cremations, families can have a visitation and funeral service onsite. They just don't go out to a cemetery, he added.
A one-day event, whether a cremation or burial, also makes for a cost-effective funeral.
“When they don’t go to the cemetery, they don’t have to pay a second-day facility’s charge, and it offers some convenience when they don’t have to be coming to and from the funeral home for two days,” said Bill Simkins.
As in other businesses, using less of the funeral home's time and space, such as in a one-day wake and service instead of a two-day event, costs less, Jim Simkins noted.
Thought about expanding for years
In 1995, the home underwent a renovation consisting of a new home entrance, lobby, restrooms and redecorated chapels.
Bill Simkins said his family had been considering expansion for years. But when he discovered the home would not need a variance from the Village of Morton Grove to build out to the sidewalk, they green-lighted the project.
“That, along with interest rates being lower now made it doable,” he said. “Another advantage in doing it this way is we didn’t lose any parking, which has always been one of our main assets.”
Funeral home opened in 1939
The Simkins family has owned the funeral home since 1973. William Simkins, Sr., a native of Manitowoc, Wisc., came to work as an ambulance driver for original owner, William A. Meyer in 1948. The original location was 6235 Lincoln Ave., where it had opened in 1939 as Meyer Funeral Home.
William Simkins married Morton Grove resident Shirley Baumhardt, raising six children in the village. The three sons joined up after Simkins purchased the home. The name was changed to Simkins Funeral Home in 1980.
The funeral home addition remains the only major new construction along Dempster this year. Two blocks west, the property once occupied by the old Maxwell’s restaurant remains vacant even amid rumors a Tilted Kilt sports bar would be built.