It may not be the ideal venue for all, but funeral homes are now moving into the market as life celebration event venues. It is not surprising when you consider that the industry estimates that around 50% of funeral chapel and gathering facilities are largely stood unused these days, and that many funeral homes have auspicious yet practical spaces that can easily house community and social gatherings.
From funeral parlor to community center
The ability to rent out space for events is offering a great opportunity for funeral businesses to gain additional revenue and is being seized by those that have the capacity to do so. Many average small funeral homes may only conduct 3–5 funerals a week, which leaves their chapel unused for significant periods.
Many funeral chapels in the United States are now being rented out to host weddings, and at a lesser cost than the same service in traditional wedding chapels. Many rural funeral homes are often set in their own ‘green space’ offering a picturesque backdrop for any wedding ceremony. Although some public responses have been to find the notion of a wedding at a funeral home “creepy”, it is really no different to the ceremony being held in a church, where newly-weds may weave their way between headstones to reach the chapel.
The Floreses’ wedding in December 2010 illustrated this trend – they married at the Community Center at Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis’ Far Eastside. With a casket showroom down the hall that and 100,000 gravestones outside in the 60-acre cemetery, the couple still described their setting as “breath-taking”.
Indeed many funeral facilities are elaborate, ornate and extensive places with marble floors, polished wood and impressive flower arrangements
Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Homes opened their Community Life Center at Washington Park East Cemetery in 2001. It initially had a slow start with only 10 weddings per year, but by 2011 they had 99 weddings preplanned in already with nearly every Friday, Saturday and Sunday booked.
Creating new revenue streams – the ‘modern’ funeral home
Those that already have the facilities to offer banqueting are extending their services to weddings, school proms, birthday and anniversary parties. Even funeral homes without extensive chapel or banqueting facilities, are now commissioning the additional building of life celebration centers in order to expand their business.
Although the death industry has been considered a stable industry for many years, recent cultural and economic changes, are affecting revenue for funeral homes today. With a move away from elaborate ‘traditional’ funerals and the rise in cremation, it is estimated that funeral homes profit margins are down by around 27%. A branch of the National Association for Funerals Directors (NAFD) surveyed members in 2010 and found that around 10% were opening their funeral facilities to the wider community to host events.
James Olson, who owns a funeral home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and is a member of the NAFD claims that this growing trend is as much to do with traditional wedding facilities closing down, as funeral homes simply moving into a new market. “A lot of (traditional wedding facilities) are shutting down because of the economy, while we (funeral homes) aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “In our community, two banquet halls closed because of the economy.”
As well as offering elaborate facilities at a fraction of the cost, many funeral homes have more availability of dates to accommodate a planned wedding, whereas popular wedding venues may be booked years in advance.
Whereas the Floreses’ chose to host their wedding indoors at the Community Life Center at Washington Park East Cemetery, a backdrop of gravestones was not an important aspect of their service. However, the Community Center do host outdoor services in a courtyard and have had couples who have chosen to get married near to where family are buried.
So it is not probably everyone’s choice, and some family may find it a little ‘spooky’, but certainly the utilization of funeral chapels and life celebration centers is likely to become a feature of the changing face of the celebration culture with the U.S.