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New Plainville funeral home adds competitive wrinkle to town's death-care industry

BY Sean Teehan

7/9/2018
HBJ Photos | Sean Teehan
HBJ Photos | Sean Teehan
After more than two decades in the funeral business, Andrea Wasley, a lifelong Plainville resident, opened a funeral home in town, right next door to a competitor.
Death has been a major part of Andrea Wasley's life for nearly a quarter-century.

She started working at Bailey Funeral Home in Plainville in 1994, when she was a senior in high school, and remained there until 2016.

Working as a funeral director is her calling, said Wasley, a lifelong Plainville resident. But the corporate management style at Bailey, which is owned by Houston-based Carriage Services Inc., made her uneasy. Her opinions on how the community should be served conflicted with managements, she said.

How did she respond? She left Bailey two years ago and recently opened her own funeral home. The 5,000-square-foot facility debuted in May, but the noteworthy part of the project was not just that she built the facility from the ground up — at a time when there are fewer funeral homes in the state than in years past — but where she located it.

Its 81 Broad St. address in Plainville is directly across the street from her former employer.

Her decision to open a funeral home so close to Bailey, which was previously the only game in town, came not out of animosity, but rather practicality, she said. Broad Street is one of the few main streets in Plainville, and is home to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.

Pressure from management to increase Bailey's market share in Plainville, a blue-collar community of less than 18,000 people about 15 miles southwest of Hartford, played a large role in Wasley's decision to leave, she said.

"[I had] different views, different values from management," Wasley said. "I wanted to have a locally run option for people. I wanted to be able to have the option to help people out financially if they weren't capable of paying for a service upfront."

Bailey funeral director Paul Belval did not return a call seeking comment.

Changing traditions

Wasley said erecting her own funeral home — called Plainville Funeral Home — also came from a desire to provide more individualized services in an industry where customers are drifting away from the traditional in recent years. More American families are choosing to cremate their dead loved ones rather than bury them.

It's a trend being felt by funeral homes across the state and country, said Edward J. Sheehy Jr., president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.

"They're not choosing things based on the religion they're associated with," Sheehy said. "They're choosing to handle the death in their own way."

Sheehy, who holds ownership stakes in Riverview Funeral home in Shelton, and Edward F. Adzima Funeral Home in Derby, recalls 30 years ago, when the funeral director largely worked as a go-between for mourners and religious institutions that held funeral services.

About 33 percent of adults living in Connecticut identify as Catholic, more than any other single religion, according to Pew Research Center data. Although funeral directors in years past simply made arrangements for a cookie-cutter religious service, their roles have expanded, especially in the past decade or so, Sheehy said.

"I see that we then take a more active role in guiding our families for the different options for the service," Sheehy said. "We're taking a lot more of an active role in guiding them … emotionally, financially, on timing."

That's a trend also noticed by Diana Duksa Kurz, co-owner of Newington Memorial Funeral Home, and a past president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.

"We also see a lot more creativity, personalization surrounding a funeral," Duksa Kurz said. "Families work with us, we help them craft a funeral that is meaningful to them."

And individualized service is easier to do without a corporate structure and broad policies dictating a funeral director's approach to customers, Wasley said.

Families that recently suffered a loss often need help understanding what their memorial-service choices are, rather than someone who will take their initial requests at face value, Wasley said.

"With cremation on the rise, funeral directors sometimes ... let the family dictate what they want," Wasley said. "Families don't really know what they want or what they need."

Wasley added that her position as a visible member of the community — including serving on the local Rotary Club, Plainville Community Fund and Parent Teacher Organizations — can set her apart from Bailey, which is one of the most established businesses in town.

Early support

Less than a year passed from the time Wasley bought the vacant lot on Broad Street from Our Lady of Mercy to when she opened the 5,000-square-foot facility, financed through a loan from Simsbury Bank, she said. In that time, she said, the venture has elicited strong support from locals, who booked 10 services at Plainville Funeral Home in its first few weeks.

Ideally, Wasley would like to capture 100 percent of the local market share, she said. But, for now, her goal is to become the preferred funeral home in Plainville.

"To see people kind of pumped up about a new funeral home in town was kind of entertaining at times, but also very heartwarming," Wasley said. "I think it's about supporting a small local business."

Duksa Kurz isn't familiar with the particulars of Plainville Funeral Home's opening, but she thinks there's probably enough room in town for Wasley's home, and Bailey.

"Just like any business there is always competition. There can be six funeral homes in one community," Kurz said. "The bottom line is: We're all serving families."