By Tim Harfmann
John Heyer owns Heyer and Scotto Funeral Home, but his business doesn’t have a home. He is forced to rent space and operate out of other funeral homes in New York. “When our lease was up, it was not renewed because they decided to do something different with the property. That forced me to be a homeless funeral home,” said Heyer.
Family-owned-and-operated funeral homes are becoming more scarce in the city. There are several reasons why. One of them is rising real estate values. Landlords are selling their properties to developers for big bucks and pushing these businesses out. Many funeral homes aren’t left with many options, but to rent space from funeral homes that are still operating.
In Brooklyn and Queens, there are nearly 300 funeral home businesses. That’s 100 less than were operating 10 years ago.
Being pushed out of the buildings is not the only factor driving funeral homes out of business.
John D’Arienzo is a fourth-generation funeral director. He’s also the vice president of the New York Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association. D’Arienzo said Catholics are choosing cheaper funeral options and that means less income. “They don’t see the value in the traditional two-day wake, the Mass, the cemetery. A simple cremation and a memorial service accomplishes the same goal,” said D’Arienzo.
In 1970, just five percent of people chose cremation. Last year, about 55 percent decided to be cremated. By 2030, that number is predicted to rise to 71 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
“My grandfather would do a cremation once every three years. My dad would do one cremation a year. I’m over 50 percent cremation,” said D’Arienzo.
“What this is doing is really cutting out much of the service we used to provide, as well as merchandise and the things that were necessary for the wake and the burial,” said Heyer.
Several trends that are now leaving doubts about the future of what used to be considered a lucrative business.