Cemeteries — merge to survive?

An article in Pennsylvania’s Morning Call that you can read here gave an indication that two historical and prominent cemeteries in Easton, Pennsylvania, are on the verge of merging together to save costs, simply to survive economic hardships.

Easton Cemetery, a 90 acre cemetery that has been open for 170 years and Easton Heights Cemetery, an adjacent cemetery that has been in operation since 1891, have discussed a merger for over a year.  The reality will come to a vote – possibly this week – to determine the fate of the two cemeteries.

According to Jeff Mutchler, the superintendent of Easton Cemetery, the cemetery will not be able to financially operate much longer unless something changes.  The cemetery is the city’s largest, but according to the article, “it has sold less than 10 burial plots annually in recent years.”  The annual budget of the cemetery is $250,000.

Mutchler continued, “Cemeteries in general are not as popular as they once were.  For two cemeteries that are next to each other like this, it just makes sense to come together and work under one budget and try to consolidate the overhead.”

The article also makes a statement about the viability of cemeteries in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania as it mentions that Hay’s Cemetery and South Easton Cemetery have recently merged.  And the article opines that “at Fairview Cemetery in Allentown, tall weeds and poison ivy are overtaking graves because the cemetery association doesn’t have enough money to keep up with maintenance.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  We know that funeral homes that are located in markets with stagnant or negative demographic growth are having revenue issues because of the decline of full service funerals.  As tough economically as that may be, they are still being paid for professional services for both funeral cases and cremation cases.

Now, think about cemeteries in those same markets.  I don’t know what percentage of cremation death calls are buried in a cemetery or put in a columbarium niche in a cemetery, but it is not 100% like casketed funerals where the casket has to be placed somewhere.  My guess, because of the popularity of scattering and bringing an urn home, is that the percentage of cremated remains families that purchase anything from a cemetery may be less than 50%.  In the other 50%, cemeteries receive no revenue.

From where I stand, this creates lots of problems, but it may create lots of opportunities for cemeteries. . . .scattering gardens with a memorial wall inscription, prepaid niches, earth burial of remains in smaller plots with a memorial stone.  Not always an easy sell in this day and age.  . but opportunities nonetheless.

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