Little will change at a 40-year-old community cemetery in Annapolis and at the city's oldest, family-run funeral home -- though both will get cosmetic face lifts nnow that a national chain has entered the picture, company officials say.
Stewart Enterprises Inc., the funeral industry's third largest company, has bought Hillcrest Memorial Gardens on Forest Drive for an undisclosed amount. The publicly traded company from New Orleans announced plans last month to purchase Hillcrest and, in a separate transaction, two larger Baltimore cemeteries.
The chain, which typically builds funeral homes at its cemeteries, also expects to settle on Taylor Funeral Chapel by the end of August, said William E. Rowe, president of Stewart Enterprises mid-Atlantic division in Brentwood. Mr. Rowe said the 23-acre Hillcrest is too small to accommodate its own funeral home.
In many cases, local owners are eager to sell because "they don't necessarily have heirs willing to take over the business," Mr. Rowe said. "They need successors who are experienced and in a financial position to ensure the continuation of the business and the quality of service." Individual properties remain under local management, he said.
Owners both at Hillcrest and Taylor said Stewart officials approached them, impressed them with the company's experience and offered deals that would benefit the businesses and the community.
"We had never considered selling," said Jack H. Maynard, vice president, general manager and part owner of Hillcrest. The cemetery, which sits on Annapolis' highest point, has had nearly 5,000 burials and has a capacity for 20,000, he said. It also has areas for pet burials and provides for pets to be buried near their owners.
"When they called us out of the blue, our initial reaction was no," said Mr. Maynard, manager for the past 15 years. "After talking with them and seeing the advantages to the community, we decided it was the best thing to do. Most of us are gaining in age and don't have children to take over."
Hillcrest's 11 stockholders were swayed by Stewart's plans to "maintain the integrity of the cemetery," retain all employees while offering benefits that current owners can't afford and keep Mr. Maynard on as manager, Mr. Maynard said.
Stewart will retain Hillcrest's eight employees and hire additional employees to sell cemetery plots, Mr. Rowe said. The company will build a new administration building within a year.
Donald S. Taylor, who runs Taylor Funeral Chapel with his brothers and nephews, said "We got a good deal. It was important for us to stay here."
His grandfather started the home in 1862 on Fleet Street. It moved to its current site on Duke of Gloucester Street in 1924.
Stewart plans to completely renovate the interior of the funeral home and repave the parking lot within a year, Mr. Rowe said.