Sunday, June 22, 2008

Demographics kills Elmhurst funeral biz

When Mr. Neufeld’s father opened the funeral home on 43rd Avenue in 1940, Elmhurst was a close-knit, suburban-style neighborhood where families with names like Shea, Bausheimer, Stahl and Celentino kept the local funeral market healthy. But when Raymond Neufeld and his brother, Joseph, took over the business in the mid-1970s, a growing influx of Asian immigrants, including Chinese, Koreans, Thais and Filipinos, combined with a continuing drop in the city’s annual death rate, began to transform the business.

The Demography of Death

Increasingly, newer arrivals to Elmhurst sought out other neighborhoods, ones where Asian and South Asian traditions were more deeply ingrained, to take their dead. And so over the next two decades, even as Elmhurst’s five other funeral homes closed or relocated, leaving Gerard J. Neufeld the sole survivor, the brothers Neufeld saw no growth in their own business.

“We constantly have to resell ourselves to the new people coming in so they’re not afraid of dealing with the American guy,” Joseph Neufeld, 57, said about the neighborhood’s growing number of self-contained ethnic pockets. “But with some groups, that’s becoming harder to do. Sometimes the barriers go beyond language.”

“I’m sure there are other funeral homes in the city that are doing very well,” Raymond Neufeld said at day’s end as he prepared to return home to his family on Long Island, where he is a volunteer firefighter. “But for us, the shifts in the business and the neighborhood changed funerals from being a lucrative endeavor to just about a break-even thing. Now, it’s only a matter of time before a Chinese funeral home opens up around here.”

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

the real issue is they have no business sense - Educate themselves about the needs of the locals, hire a oriental person to be the dad to day operations manager, who can relate to the clients and place ads in the local newspapers stating that they cater to the needs of locals.
Maybe going out of business is a better idea.

Anonymous said...

yup like above poster said, they just suck at business, and because of that, they will die.

Anonymous said...

If these guys sold clothes, they would probably still have Members Only jackets for sale.

Anonymous said...

There is still a Jewish-owned funeral home in the South Bronx, so the Neufelds' decline is not just about demographics.

Anonymous said...

That last comment was one of the dumbest things I have ever read. The South Bronx is not like Elmhurst. Asians have very different customs than those who live in the South Bronx.

Anonymous said...

How racist that Asians would only patronize an Asian funeral home. If whites made a point of not patronizing a Chinese owned business, John Liu would be outside their door with a bullhorn.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's because this funeral home failed to hire an Asian person to be the operations manager. Not because Chinese will only patronize a Chinese-owned establishment.

Anonymous said...

How racist that Asians would only patronize an Asian funeral home. If whites made a point of not patronizing a Chinese owned business, John Liu would be outside their door with a bullhorn.

Good point, but remember, the tweeded are protected and lead lives that whites can only dream about. When is the last time you saw someone in the media poke fun at Asians.

By comparison, Archie Bunker is a cultural icon of the Queens white male. Ousiders can come in, invent something, and paint a whole section of the boro as neanderthals where it is perfectly ok to ignore or discount anything they say.

Anonymous said...

The point about Asians only patronizing other Asian businesses is actually a stupid point. Every ethnicity favors their own, whether Irish, Italian, German or Russian. Asians do shop at Macy's, Stop & Shop and other such businesses. These are not Asian businesses. This story is about a business that failed to keep up with the times. Such businesses should go extinct.

The media has been poking fun at Asians for a long time. Haven't you ever seen Gun Smoke, or Sixteen Candles or even Kung Fu, when they had to use a whiote man to play an Asian?

You can continue to look at the world through your blinders and you will eventually go extinct.

Queens Crapper said...

The question was: "When is the last time you saw someone in the media poke fun at Asians."

Gunsmoke - 1975
Sixteen Candles - 1984
Kung Fu - 1975

Got any examples from the last year or so?

This article is about the entire Elmhurst funeral industry collapsing because the neighborhood changed. The only way they would have stayed successful would be if they had sold to Chinese.

You can continue to look at the world through your blinders and you will eventually go extinct.

Anonymous said...

Comedian Norm McDonald made fun of Koreans on the Adam Carolla show in March '08.

Using your logic:

All in the Family - 1979

This was actually not the main point of the posting. The main point is that businesses with terrible business practices go out of business. Also, every group favors its own, that's why there are so many ethnic enclaves in NYC.

Queens Crapper said...

Here I thought there were so many enclaves in NYC because of the freedoms and opportunities we offer here.

I am not sure what you are trying to get at with All in the Family - 1979. The image of Archie Bunker is used to characterize the white people of this borough today. No one is still mentioning Hop Sing as representative of the Chinese. And yes, the original subject of the post was the funeral home. I'm still not understanding why native white folk must patronize stores owned by minorities in order to be considered politically correct, but "ethnic" folks somehow are immune from the reverse criticism.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not understanding why native white folk must patronize stores owned by minorities in order to be considered politically correct, but "ethnic" folks somehow are immune from the reverse criticism.

That's just silly. Who says you MUST shop at Asian markets or eat Indian food to be politically correct? Businesses change in line with a neighborhood's demographics. There's nothing sinister about it. My own neighborhood has changed from largely Jewish to largely Italian; many of the Jewish businesses also left and now there are more pizzerias and Italian delis. Does this process somehow become evil when it happens in Asian neighborhoods?

And funeral homes are hardly a typical business! Death involves a lot of sensitive and deep-rooted cultural practices. It's natural that people want to patronize one they feel comfortable with culturally. My own relatives happen to use a Catholic-owned funeral home whose owner they know. They'd be unlikely to use a Chinese or Hindu funeral provider. This doesn't make them racist, and I don't think it runs true the other way either.

Anonymous said...

Most funeral homes allow you to bring in whomever you wish to perform memorial services, dress the body however you want and will ship you to whatever house of worship you want for a funeral. They all allow mementos in the viewing area. They all prepare the bodies the same way. Coffins distribute to all funeral directors. So why do Chinese people simply have to choose a Chinese undertaker?

Anonymous said...

"Who says you MUST shop at Asian markets or eat Indian food to be politically correct? Businesses change in line with a neighborhood's demographics."

Doesn't sound like there are any Chinese owned funeral parlors in Elmhurst if I am reading the article correctly.

Deborah Dederick Ng said...

As someone who was born and raised in Elmhurt Neufelds is like an instituion.

As someone married to a Chinese man I can see how inadequate Neufelds is to the needs of the Asian people and their beliefs.

Rather than wait for a Chinese funeral home to open up, why not hire some Chinese or Asian funeral directors and cater to Elmhurst's Asian community? I don't get why they haven't done so already. So many people complain about the Chinese businesses taking over. If you want to keep up, cater to the community.

And for those who say it's racist for Asians to visit Asian funeral homes, you have to understand there are differences in the culture thus differences in the funerals.

Are the Neufelds equipped to handle the Buddhist ceremonies or speak to the Chinese clientele? People go where they are best able to communicate. If Neufeld's wants to keep up, they have to cater to all the people in Elmhurst. The Chinese funeral is much different than the St.Barts funerals most of their clients are used to.

It sounds to me the Neufelds can't keep up because they have bad business sense not because of all the Asians in the area.

Diana Dederick Hayes said...

My grandmother was born in Hungary as were some of her family and in-laws. At Easter time they went to the Hungarian Deli to get Kobas and fought over which Hungarian Deli had the best. They wouldn't patronize a Polish Deli or a German Deli because to get what they wanted they had to go to the people who made it their way. The Hungarians. So, if you have an area that changes, you need to accomodate the people who are there. A person who spoke Chinese (or other Asian Language) and understood all of the customs enough to make the Asian population comfortable would do well. If you have a choice between chosing someone who understands what you are saying or what you want, over someone who you have to explain every minute detail to, then you will choose the one who will do it right with the least amount of intervention on your part.

Anonymous said...

I have used Neufelds Funeral Home over 8 times to handle our needs
The Neufelds have always been excellent. They often give the poor breaks on their services.
This a bigger issue than the Asian community, When have The Latinos & others refusal to learn English, We everyone else calling then selves for example African Americans & Italian Americans, When in for God sake are going to become Americans first, start our own culture and identity. Sen. Obama use a "black Christian Church" Last time I looked Jesus was Jewish and embraced everyone.
We have other issues NBC & ABC with only Back & Latino programs. WE need the Government to stop the entire BS with publishing Doc in almost every Language. We are American we should support each other as American First.