Decal Junky Article in The Las Vegas Sun


Memorial decals take personal touch

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007 | 7:05 a.m.  

Repeat customers are cause for concern in the memorial decal business.

For three weekends in a row, Las Vegas decal designer Stacy Gray cut different stickers for the same client, a teenage girl whose friends kept dropping from drug overdoses.

The memorial decals, vinyl stickers placed on a car's back window or bumper, all featured the same flowered crucifix, but cradled by a different slanted script - the name - then rest in peace.

"Same decals," Gray says, "different friends."

Memorial decals are grief-on-wheels. Mobile mourning, stickers stuck to a window and reflected in the rear view. For drivers who have lost loved ones, it's a way to forget forgetting: our sorrows, our stickers, our cars, ourselves.

Metro Police Officer Don Albeitz was biking on Highway 159 in July 2005 when a tractor-trailer hit him from behind and barreled on. Albeitz died from injuries eight days later, but the memorial decals Metro colleagues made in his memory remain stuck to the backs of about 200 cars.

Sgt. Greg Weeks sees the decal every time he drives on-duty - it's a bicycle sprocket with Albeitz's officer identification number inside: 4204. Weeks knows the number by heart. "I think it helps keep him alive in our minds," he says.

In time, patterns emerge. The memorial decals become a sort of sorrow index.

Online decal manufacturer John Thomas is seeing a surge in stickers to commemorate fallen soldiers. Orders for decals solemnizing Sept. 11, however, are starting to dwindle.

Thomas co-owns Decal Junky with his wife, Suzanne, in Columbus, Miss. Sometimes the couple will work 18-hour days to meet online decal demand, which runs into the thousands annually.

"It keeps the memory from fading," Thomas says. "You have a memorial on your window, it tends to keep bringing you back, bringing you back."

Wedged into a booth at the Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet, Gray and her parents, Bob and Norma, run BSN All-Vinyl Signs and Decals. The business is word-of-mouth, and it's a certain crowd that comes for memorial decals: the young and the reckless.

Gray estimates half the memorial decals they make are in memory of people who died using drugs, most of the rest in car accidents.  "I always ask," Stacy Gray says. "I try to show a little empathy. If they are going this far, it's important."

Last week she took an order for 100 decals; 75 white, 25 gold. The purchaser planned to hand out the stickers during a funeral.

The smallest decal, 8 by 8 inches, costs $7 plus a $4 customization fee.

Popular memorial images involve crucifixes wreathed in flowers or standing alone or with a cartoon man kneeling before the cross, hands clasped. There are also roses with winding thorns, and angels frozen in different poses.

There are dogs wearing halos and angel wings, barking from the four-legged beyond.

Gray does not rush remembrances of the dead. The decals take about 20 minutes to make, long enough for customers to open up before shuffling off."

I have to take time with them," Gray says. "I want to make sure they like what I'm making. When I'm designing it, I just tell them I'm really sorry."

Tara DeSoto stuck a white memorial decal on the rear window of her white Honda Civic. The sticker is in honor of a high school friend, Kristina Fannon, who died of cancer three years ago. Underneath the sloping font of Fannon's name, date of birth and death, the decal reads, "We hope you dance."

The sticker has started to curl and peel, still the sentiment lasts. "Whenever I look in my rear-view mirror," DeSoto says, "It reminds me of her."