South Brooklyn funeral homes change to reflect diverse community

In light of New York City’s plummeting death rate, advancing medical technology and declining burial plot spaces, it’s no small wonder that funeral directors in South Brooklyn are struggling to stay afloat in an industry fueled by death.

However, according to Pat Marmo, owner of Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home in Sunset Park (4123 4th Avenue), the key to success in the funeral industry has everything to do with adapting to changes in the community. Marmo began noticing an influx of Muslim residents around the mid-2000s and acted accordingly, remodeling one of the funeral home’s buildings in order to accommodate their faith.

“Before facilities like ours adapted to the Muslim community, people in that community did not know where to go. People were susceptible to dealing with people in the funeral home industry that were unsure of their needs,” said Marmo, who also renovated two other buildings in order to accommodate varying faiths. “Diversity is what we concentrate on and we want to help every custom and tradition within in our community.”

Indeed, Marmo ensures that guests of all religious backgrounds are satisfied. Daniel J. Schaeffer has provided funeral services for Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Hispanic, Irish, Quaker and other faiths that populate Sunset Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.

According to Marmo, the funeral home also offers international shipping for faiths that may wish to send their loved ones to their home country, as well as low-cost cremations, which are used in Hindu funerals.

“We recognize and welcome diversity in Sunset Park. There are times we have a strict Islamic funeral going on in one building, and a Christian funeral with a wake going on in another building. The way the place is designed each family can do what they need to do without interfering with each other,” said Marmo.

The death of South Brooklyn’s funeral homes as well as its growing diversity is also not unfamiliar to Joe Aievoli, who owns the Aievoli Funeral Home in Dyker Heights (1275 65th Street). The business had largely served Dyker’s Italian-Catholic population for more than 100 years, until 2001, when Aievoli saw the need to also serve the community’s growing Asian population.

After placing a sign in Chinese in his funeral home, Aievoli was eventually approached by Peter Zhao, a Chinese immigrant who had worked with grave-site monuments back home.

“He walked in one day and had some experience in the industry in China and was looking to go to work,” said Aievoli of Zhao, who currently runs the Chinese front of the funeral home. “He and others act as translators because a good part of the population speaks Chinese as their first language. We eventually opened a facility in Brooklyn’s Chinatown.”

In 2007, Aievoli opened Wan Shou Funeral Home in Sunset Park (5312 8th Avenue) which primarily caters to 8th Avenue’s large Asian population.

When asked about the rampant closing of funeral homes throughout South Brooklyn, Aievoli was easily able to rattle off many that closed in his career, including Ridge Chapels, DeLuca and Marasco, to name a few.

“If you localize the neighborhood, probably 70% have closed. Nine out of 11 have closed in Bay Ridge in the last 30 years and none have opened,” said Aievoli.

“If they are in New York City, they can easily monetize the real estate and close the funeral home. That is what typically happens,” he added.

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