‘Real estate is a lot more money now’: Queens family-owned funeral homes struggling to stay in business

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Family-owned funeral homes in Queens are in decline, according to numerous local funeral directors across the “World’s Borough.”

This year alone, several family-owned and -operated funeral homes in the borough have been acquired by bigger companies or sold for real estate, including Conway Funeral Home in Jackson Heights, C. Johann & Son in College Point and Quinn Fogarty in Flushing.

But John Golden, owner and operator of Martin A. Gleason Funeral Homes, says that the changing industry is not beneficial to the communities they serve. Golden has worked at Gleason since 1981 and bought the business from original owners John and Marty Gleason in 2000.

“The phrase ‘family-owned and -operated’ evokes a warmth,” Golden said. “Typically, family-owned and -operated businesses had proprietors and employees who lived in the communities they served. They were accountable to the community and were integral to the fabric of what made a community function as such.”

He said that the Gleasons had the opportunity to sell the funeral home to a big corporation, but declined due to their feelings that their business “is akin to a vocation” and should serve the community.

Recently, Golden confirmed that he acquired Lloyd’s Funeral Home in Bayside, another family-owned business. He operates the funeral home under the same name and number from Gleason’s Bayside facility, which he said customers have appreciated.

Golden shared that bigger companies may not provide the same personalized service as family-run operations.

“Management is often removed from day-to-day operations,” said Golden, who added that corporate chains in Queens often outsource the work they do to companies out of state as opposed to offering in-house services like at Gleason.

John Hoey, the owner of O’Shea-Hoey Funeral Home in Astoria echoes Golden’s sentiments. Hoey’s family has owned the funeral home, at 29-13 Ditmars Blvd., since 1967, when they purchased it from the O’Shea family. The owner said that the services they are able to provide to customers are more “personable” than services offered by bigger corporations.

“We provide the same service and the same funeral for a fraction of the cost, with a personal touch that you, your family and loved ones deserve. We provide all services at our funeral home. We are not just a cremation service or some new internet website business. We are experienced funeral directors, who are here to help you plan a dignified funeral,” as noted on the O’Shea-Hoey Funeral Home website.

Both Golden and Hoey attribute the decline in family-owned businesses to the rising property values in the area, making it more difficult to stay open. Hoey said that the smaller funeral homes have been closing down over the last four or five years. According to Golden, funeral homes all over the New York City and in Nassau County in Long Island have fallen prey to rising property values.

“The costs make it more expensive to run. Real estate is a lot more money [now],” said Hoey.

But Hoey said that the rise of corporation-owned funeral homes has also been pushing customers to patronize O’Shea-Hoey. “The advantage is that the prices for the bigger guys is higher, which is helping me,” he said.

Despite the staying power of these two family-run businesses rising costs in the area make the future uncertain.

“I think it’ll keep being a trend,” said Hoey. “I think a lot of people are gonna close down even more.”

Golden said that the solution is to make people aware about which business are family-run and which are not in order for them to stay afloat in the upcoming years.

“It is imperative that customers know what kind of business they are dealing with: a family-owned and -operated one or a corporation. They may make all the difference in their experience,” said Golden.

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