THE new owners of the business formerly known as Watson Memorials are one father and two brothers — Pete, John and Ted Moutzouris – already well-known in the Denver Jewish community as the proprietors and operators of Pete’s Fruits & Vegetables, a venerable East Denver retail business.
Watson’s, a family business that dates all the way back to the 19th century, will no longer manufacture the gravestones and memorial markers that were always its stock in trade.
The new owners plan to transform the business into a seasonal garden center and flower business, a trade they have plied in a limited fashion for some years at their produce outlet on Holly St.
In the meantime, the Moutzouris family hopes to settle a considerable number of disputes concerning Watson’s inventory that have drawn attention since the tombstone maker closed and locked its doors unexpectedly two years ago.
Most of those disputes are with frustrated customers, some of whom paid, or at least put down a deposit, for memorial markers that were never delivered.
Based on the names appearing on the unclaimed stones, John Moutzouris told the Intermountain Jewish News last week, some of those unhappy customers are Jewish.
That’s not surprising, since Watson’s is located at Alameda Ave. and Quebec St., just across the street from Fairmount Cemetery, where many Denver Jewish gravesites are located.
Moutzouris said that his family bought the business in late June from descendants of the Watson family, specifically Tammy McCarty, sister of the firm’s last listed owner Andy Noe, who closed the business suddenly in July, 2011, leaving some orders undelivered.
At the time of the closing, Watson’s was listed as delinquent by the Colorado Secretary of State but it never filed for bankruptcy, Moutzouris said, which opened the way for the transaction between the two families.
“We talked and struck a deal,” Moutzouris said, “and that was it.”
ALONG with the Watson structures and land, he added, the Moutzouris family also purchased the firm’s inventory and equipment, which he described as considerable.
The Watson business, Moutzouris told the IJN last week, “is like a landmark. It’s been there for so long.”
The firm was founded in 1897, according to media reports, and remained a family business through seven generations.
As the new owners, the Moutzouris’ first challenge is to resolve what to do with inventory that customers have waited some two years for.
“We’re in the process of trying to get the stones back to their rightful owners,” Moutzouris said. “We’re trying to figure all that out.”
Working with limited business records, he acknowledged that this may be difficult, unless customers have a receipt or some other form of documentation to establish their ownership of loved one’s markers.
There are at least a dozen completed memorial stones at the property, some with Jewish names, including Zuckerman, as well as some with Korean lettering, Moutzouris said.
Those without any documentation may have to settle their financial or property disputes with the former owners through civil litigation.
“We’ve gotten tons of calls,” he said. “People have been giving us their last names, asking us to check and see if their stones are there. Whatever is there and has a name on it we’re more than happy to help people.”
At least two stones, including one for a WW I veteran, have already been claimed and are expected to be returned soon, he added.
Moutzouris says the family will satisfy as many of those wronged by Watson’s unannounced closure as is humanly possible.
“We’re just doing the right thing,” he said. “Anything that we can do to help them.”
Moutzouris fully understands that the investments families have made for the markers can be considerable. He has seen price-tags on non-engraved stones as high as $7,000 to $12,000.
The new owners have also received inquiries about the old Watson inventory of yet-to-be engraved tombstones and various equipment. Other memorial businesses and one engraving school have inquired about purchasing this material, or receiving it as donations.
After the inventory issues are settled, the business site is thoroughly cleaned up and repaired and various city regulations seen to, Moutzouris said, the family plans to open its new business on the Watson site.
As yet unnamed, the store will offer seasonal gardening items and flowers – hanging baskets, potting plants and floral arrangements – most probably during spring, summer and autumn.
Moutzouris was not ready to speculate last week when the new business would open its doors.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News