By ALISON MUTLER, Associated Press
SIBIU, Romania (AP) — Times are so hard in Romania that people joke they cannot afford to die. Yet in the mountains of Transylvania, carpenters are churning out cut-price coffins in a bid to beat the rising costs of death.
Ilie Troanca says he's beating the recession blues with bargain coffins that sell for around euro100 ($136) in Transylvania, home of the Dracula legend.
So far, he's sold just a few hundred, but the coffins have only been on the market for a couple of months. He has already attracted plenty of attention far beyond the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, 300 kilometers (188 miles) northwest of Bucharest.
"I saw there was an opportunity and that we had unused space," said Troanca, director of the Sibiu state timber and forest industry, which oversees 180,000 hectares (445,000 acres) of oak, beech, pine forests.
The no-frills coffins sell for 350 to 450 lei (euro82 to euro106 or $112 to $145) plus 24 percent sales tax, depending on the wood and the complexity of the design. Oak is the most expensive, while beech and pine are less pricey.
Coffins are big business in Romania, a country of 22 million, which has an aging population but where scarcely anyone is cremated. Regular coffins can sell for hundreds or thousands of euros depending on how fancy they are, and in addition to buying a plot, families often have to pay bribes to graveyard caretakers to secure a decent burial site.
Long slices of wood from the trees that cover the Carpathian Mountains were stacked outside Troanca's workshop like bread sticks.
"This would have become firewood" if we hadn't used it, he said.
It takes about one day to craft an inexpensive coffin before it is painted or lacquered. There are two designs, rectangular or hexagonal, which has a six-cornered lid.
"It's a good idea," said Sorin Ceausila, a 42-year-old carpenter who was jobless before being hired to make bargain coffins. "We all die and someone has to make the coffins."