The Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington is reserving judgment on whether or not Edward Sagel’s decision to buy both Edward Sagel Funeral Direction and Danzansky-Goldberg Memorial Chapels will affect its efforts to keep down funeral costs in the Washington D.C. area.
A recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission ordering the largest funeral home operation in the country, Service Corporation International, to sell off the Sagel funeral home created an opportunity for Sagel to reacquire his old funeral home, as well buy Danzansky-Goldberg. Sagel is the founder of Sagel Funeral Direction and has been the manager for many years of Danzansky-Goldberg.
The FTC proposal calls for Hines-Rinaldi, which currently has a special, low-cost contact with the Jewish funeral committee, to be bought up by SCI. The committee wanted the FTC to require the divestiture of Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, instead of the Sagel home, as its contract with Hines-Rinaldi enables anyone requesting it to have a Jewish funeral for $1,825, about $4,000 less than the average funeral in this area.
There was a 30-day window for public comments before any FTC ruling would be final, and the community at large, the funeral practices committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington launched a letter-writing campaign in hopes of convincing the FTC to change its mind. That 30-day period ended Wednesday, after Washington Jewish Week went to press.
In announcing his intentions to buy “two Jewish funeral homes,” Sagel said he was aware others had bid on those two funeral homes, and he feels “very fortunate to make this opportunity a reality.”
Whether or not Sagel will offer a reduced price to the Jewish community has yet to be decided, according to Daniel Isard, a consultant with The Foresight Companies, which represents Sagel. Also undecided is whether or not Sagel would merge the two homes under one company or keep them separate.
He noted that Danzansky-Goldberg caters to “the higher end” and is noted for “better personalized service than Sagel,” which is “a more modest company.”
Isard said Sagel “would love” to work with the Jewish community, but added, “I think it’s premature” to talk about any contract. “The most important thing is we would want to find a way to meet the needs of the community.” However, he noted, “We are still getting our hands around what our costs would be.”
When learning of Sagel’s letter of intent to acquire both businesses, Bob Hausman, president of the funeral practices committee, was far from excited. “It remains to be seen” what will happen, he said. “We’ll just have to see how it works out.”
An employee at Danzansky-Goldberg refused comment.
According to a press release from the funeral practices committee, “Sagel is basically a modest storefront, does not have a chapel or facilities to handle bodies, and its market share has fallen from 25 percent to about 11 percent in the past three years.”
Under the current contract, Hines-Rinaldi provides the Jewish community with a funeral that includes a simple pine box casket with a Jewish star and removes much of the grieving family’s stress as there is neither pressure to purchase extras or a requirement to pay for anything during the 30-day mourning period.
That contract expires in June of this year. However, the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee can unilaterally decide to extend the contract for two more years, with a minor increase in cost to match the federal Consumer Price Index, according to Hausman.
After that, a new agreement may not be possible as Hines-Rinaldi will be owned by SCI and may not be able to set its own special prices or contracts.