For three decades, Rico Monuments operated on a wedge-shaped tract in the center of St. Elmo's busy commercial district.
But late last month, the company shifted locations after longtime landowner See Rock City didn't renew the lease.
Manny Rico, the company's founder and owner, said the business has moved to 4608 Rossville Blvd. across from the Walter A. Wood Supply Co.
"There's not as much display space, but it's perfect for us," he said about the venture that offers grave markers and memorial stones. "The Lord must have intervened for us."
Rico said the company received a letter from Rock City last fall, telling him the lease wouldn't be renewed and that it was "going in a different direction."
Meagan Jolley, the Lookout Mountain attraction's public relations manager, said the Lookout Mountain attraction is looking for opportunities to be a part of the growing St. Elmo community that's a gateway to the mountain. Two years ago, Rock City bought the Chattanooga-based ice cream maker and retailer Clumpies, which has stores downtown and in St. Elmo.
Jolley said Rock City officials don't have confirmed plans at this time for the property that sits across from the Incline Railway that runs up the mountain.
Rico, 70, said he started the family-run company after a monument firm for which he had worked, Comolli Memorials, went out of business.
"I walked in and the secretary said, 'We don't have a job anymore,'" Rico said. He recalled he'd been doing a little bit of all the tasks at Comolli and said to himself "I can do this."
Rico Monuments started up in St. Elmo, soon moving to the 4000 Tennessee Ave., site it occupied for 30 years. In addition to its Rossville Boulevard sales office, the company has a shop in Flintstone.
"It grew naturally," he said about the business that employs his wife, son and grandson. "I didn't want to borrow the money. I had a couple of thousand dollars I had saved up."
These days, the company is hit by more competition from funeral homes and cemeteries than in the past as well as a trend toward cremation, said Rico, who declined to discuss annual revenues.
In response, the business has branched out to offer more services such as engraving and monument cleaning and widened its offerings geographically to Scottsboro, Ala., and Nashville, he said.
"You have to diversify," said the former Chattanooga City Councilman who is mulling another run for the office.
He said one key to the company's longevity is that he's not aggressive when it comes to his customers.
"It's a time when people are at their lowest," said Rico, who moved to Chattanooga from Garland, Texas. "It's the final thing they can do. I don't want to make people feel guilty."
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.