Not surprisingly, Christmas is the busiest season, with an uptick around Halloween. In 1996, a Japanese retailer spent $30,000 at the shop. The Web is the next frontier. The site, at www.lacoroner.com, features an animated skeleton that seems more appropriate to Saturday morning TV cartoons than a morgue. Browse on Boo-verly Hills Drive or Pacific Ghost Highway.
"People who come in here either like it or they hate it," says Hazlett. By using the Internet and pursuing a teenage market (the "skater crowd," as he puts it), he predicts sales of $1 million by 2006. He's adding new products: his first shipment of body logo beanie caps was snatched up by staff.
Profits from the shop support a county court program that sentences drunk drivers to shock-therapy visits to the morgue. On a recent Saturday morning, 21 mostly young offenders—some accompanied by a parent—watched a gruesome video about alcohol-caused traffic accidents, then recited the details of their crimes to the group. Though having to confess clearly upset some of the young offenders, most seemed more agitated about touring the morgue itself. Lt. David Smith handed out disposable gloves and paper bootees and masks to protect against bacteria. "It won't help with the smell—just breathe through your mouth," he advised a pale teenager.
Several autopsies were under way as the line shuffled tentatively past corpses in plastic wrap; clearly, youthful bravado had yielded to the sight of lifeless bodies. "It gets to them. It works," Smith told me after the tour. Suddenly, the oldest of the group, a man in his 50s, ran back from the parking lot through a beating rain. Is it true, he asked, that there is a gift shop? He'd like to take home a souvenir.