Original article by nypost.com
Big Apple funeral homes are fast becoming a dying breed because New Yorkers are living too darn long, among other factors, according to a report Monday.
The number of the businesses handling the dearly departed citywide dropped 44 percent from 841 in 1990 to 473 today — a dramatic plunge for an industry once thought to be as reliable as death itself, Crain’s New York Business revealed.
The number deaths citywide fell 30 percent from 76,000 in 1989 to 53,000 in 2014, according to data reported by the paper.
Fewer baby boomers are dying from heart disease, cancer and AIDS — and medication is keeping older folks going longer, according to the city’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.
But that good news is not so sweet to the funeral industry.
“I don’t want to sound like a miserable tombstone guy, but I look around Park Slope, and the average age is, like, 36 years old. You can feel the death rate is way down,” Michael Cassara, of Supreme Memorials, a headstone-carving business in Gowanus that gets referrals from funeral homes, told Crain’s.
Hundreds of other businesses — including multi-generation family funeral homes — have closed because they’ve lost their customer base in gentrifying areas.
Keith Senko, of Senko Funeral Home in Williamsburg, owns the last funeral home in the neighborhood. The family business was founded on Bedford Avenue in 1928 — but one recent caller demanding a “hip” funeral surprised him.
“It had to be in Williamsburg, they said, because it had to be ‘on the cutting edge.’ That was a new one. I told them we’ve been on the cutting edge for a hundred years,” Senko told Crain’s.
Dozens more funeral homes have closed in Harlem, Sunset Park and Prospect Heights and other neighborhoods in the past three years.
Many owners have sold to real estate and retail developers for millions of dollars, sometimes reluctantly, Crain’s reported.
“It’s a really painful decision for them,” said Melissa Drake, president of American Funeral Consultants, which funeral home appraisals.
“But if you’re sitting on a property worth $5 million and you’re only doing 100 funerals a year, and your kids aren’t interested in the business and you need to think about retirement … it’s hard,” she said.
Recent examples of New York sales include the Michael Cosgrove & Son funeral home in Sunset Park, which sold for $2.125 million in 2014 and Dominic J. Cusimano Court Street Funeral Home in Cobble Hill, which sold for $4.55 million the same year. The Ray Smith Funeral Home in Prospect Heights sold for $2.35 million last year, Crain’s reported.
Another reason funeral homes have shuttered is that it’s expensive to snag a spot in New York City cemeteries, Crain’s reported.
At Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park, where experts predict space will run out in five years, the price of a three-casket grave plot spiked from $8,000 to $17,000 in the past decade.
At Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, a plot for one costs $8,000 — double the price a decade ago.
Expensive funeral prices may have popularized cremation, which typically cost about $4,000 per person.
In New York, cremation rates surged from 20 percent in 1999 to 39 percent in 2013, Crain’s reported.
Nationwide, the cremation rate spiked from 25 percent in 1999 to 50 percent last year, in part because of relaxed religious mores and dying traditions, according to Crain’s.
“You used to have a three-day wake with hundreds of people coming through. Now you don’t even get a one-day wake. We’re here to serve the remnants of families who still want to do things traditionally,” said Dominic Cusimano, of the Court Street Funeral Home in Cobble Hill.
But other insiders say it’s a sign the death industry needs to adapt.
“There is a bright future for businesses who can adapt to a 21st-century way of doing business,” said Dan Isard, head of the funeral industry consultant company, Foresight Companies.
“We may be able to cure cancer, but we can’t cure death,” he said.