Oak Lawn shop supplies props for police, fire TV shows
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org August 22, 2012 8:14PM
Gene Furmanek, a former Alsip firefighter, started G & L Trophies in Oak Lawn 31 years ago. The store sells primarily police and fire items and supplies props to shows like Mike and Molly and Chicago Fire. His son Tim, an Oak Lawn police lieutenant, now operates the store. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:05AM
Tim Furmanek likes to record episodes of the CBS comedy “Mike & Molly,” then scrutinize them, virtually frame by frame.
It’s not that he’s some obsessed fan of the show, which features an overweight Chicago cop and his wife, a fourth-grade teacher in the city also struggling with her weight. He’s scouring each scene to catch a glimpse of something from his family’s Oak Lawn business, G & L Trophies & Gifts.
Started more than three decades ago by his father, Gene, a former Alsip firefighter, G & L provides all kinds of props for the show, and is supplying items for another network show coming this fall and being filmed in Chicago.
The store, 4038 W. 111th St., sells police- and firefighter-themed apparel, artwork, books, collectibles and other items. Gene Furmanek started the business out of his home in 1981, creating plaques and trophies for local police officers’ and firefighters’ promotions and retirements. He retired from the Alsip Fire Department in 1991.
“We probably did two or three orders (for ‘Mike & Molly’) last year,” Tim Furmanek, an Oak Lawn police lieutenant, said.
The business was contacted earlier this year by the production company for a drama called “Chicago Fire,” shepherded by Dick Wolf, the creator of “Law & Order” and its assorted incarnations. The program will debut Oct. 10, two days after the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.
G & L has been shipping out Chicago Fire Department shirts and coffee mugs, plaques, picture frames and gift items that are being employed as props. Gene Furmanek said that while the business has been called on in the past to supplement a TV program’s prop department, the amount of material it’s been shipping out for “Chicago Fire” is substantial.
“We have done this before, but not on this scale,” he said.
Web helps widen customer base
While G & L’s core customer base includes police officers and firefighters — as well as their families and friends — there are also the “fans” who want to wear what the cops and firefighters wear, and the Internet has helped G & L sell its products to a wider audience, Tim Furmanek said.
The business began selling products online in 2005, and now, nearly 15 percent of sales are from the website, he said. Orders have come from many parts of the United States — a lot of orders originate from Arizona, where Furmanek suspects many firefighters have retired to — as well as from Europe and Australia.
One order, from the Maldives, prompted a change in G & L policy.
After realizing the cost to ship the item there — a country perched on a cluster of atolls in the Indian Ocean — would far exceed what G & L normally assesses for shipping, as well as being far above the cost of the product itself, Furmanek tried to back out. The buyer was insistent G & L stick to its promise, but after that, no more Maldives-bound orders would be fulfilled.
He said the Internet and TV help bring in new customers, and Furmanek said it’s likely that “Chicago Fire” discovered G & L thanks to the web.
One such spike in orders came after an episode of the TV program “Southland,” about the Los Angeles Police Department, which included a scene where newly minted cops are handed a copy of the book “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement,” written by Kevin Gilmartin. Furmanek said rookie officers on the Oak Lawn force are given copies of the book.
“They show the cover (of the book) on the show, and all of a sudden we are getting orders” for it, he said.
If “Chicago Fire” is a hit — and considering Wolf’s track record, it certainly has a shot — G & L could benefit, his father said.
“What might this (exposure) mean for us?” Gene said.
Changing of the guard
Gene Furmanek, who turns 72 next month , essentially has retired from the day-to-day supervision of the business and is able to spend more time with his wife of 49 years, Lois, who is the “L” in G & L. He has handed the baton — or perhaps nightstick is the better word — to his son.
“Who would have thought it?” Gene said of the longevity of the business, which started out as a hobby.
Longtime store employees are more than adept at keeping things running smoothly, so Tim doesn’t have to be a regular visitor to the store. G & L also hires part-time summer help, giving priority to high school students whose parents are first responders.
Tim said his main duties are to check emails to see what new orders have come in to G & L’s website, chicagofireandcopshop.com, and make sure the site is refreshed with new products.
Police- and fire-themed Christmas ornaments have arrived, and G & L also is the exclusive outlet for two firefighter sculptures by Chicago-area artist Dennis Franzen. One, called “America’s Hero,” is a bust of a firefighter cradling a baby he’s just rescued.
While his dad was a firefighter for 22 years, Tim, 46, knew as a young teen he was destined to be a police officer. He took part in student government day while a junior high student in Alsip, serving as the town’s police chief for a day. That cemented his decision to pursue a career in criminal justice, and he’s been with the Oak Lawn department for 22 years.