An article in Crain’s New York this weekend describes how the historically Italian-Catholic Aievoli Funeral Home (1275 65th Street) made the decision cater to changing demographics early on, providing burial services to Chinese Americans.
The Dyker Heights funeral parlor — which buried Detective Wenjian Liu, the officer from Gravesend who was killed in an ambush in December 2014 — has been able to adapt amid a rapidly declining death industry thanks to the leadership of fourth-generation funeral director Joe Aievoli.
As we’ve reported, Liu’s classic, pomp-filled NYPD ceremony, which drew a sea of men in uniform from across the country, also incorporated many traditional Buddhist traditions.
Crain’s takes a closer look at how the Aievolis, who have been burying Brooklyn’s dead since 1900, learned to serve needs of an increasingly diverse customer base:
In 2001, Joe Aievoli put up a small sign in Chinese on the Aievoli Funeral Home in Dyker Heights, which had been serving the area’s largely Italian Catholic population since 1900. “People thought he was insane. They said he was going to alienate his other customers,” recalled Pat Marmo, owner of Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, who considers Aievoli a mentor.
Aievoli, a fourth-generation funeral director, ignored the criticism. “Just from walking around the neighborhood, I could tell that’s where it was going to go,” he recalled, referring to the nearby swath of southern Brooklyn that has since become the borough’s Chinatown.
He started by approaching local Asian merchants, asking if they had experience with Chinese funerals. The florists he visited turned out to be Korean, “so that didn’t work,” he recalled.
Aievoli’s luck shifted when Peter Zhao, a recent immigrant who spoke Cantonese and Mandarin and had some experience working with funerals back in China, walked into the funeral parlor looking for work. What started as a “funeral home within a funeral home,” soon spawned Wan Shou Funeral Home, located in a formerly Scandinavian funeral business at 5312 8th Avenue, which is now directed by Zhao and his wife Amy Li.
Read more here about how Aievoli’s foresight has allowed the family-owned business to survive and thrive.