Funeral home business plans expansion to county

Business set to serve area's growing need

April 14, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

An abandoned house on Guilford Road marks the spot of what will soon be a funeral home and a memorial garden complete with a koi pond.

Baltimore's Howell Funeral Home will open its second location, near U.S. 1 in Savage, next year to become the county's first African-American-owned funeral home. Construction is expected to begin in the fall, and is scheduled to be complete in January.

Willie E. Howell Jr., who owns the business with his brother Brian and two sisters, said he plans to take advantage of the expected mushrooming of the county's aged population.

During the next decade, Howard County is expected to have the fastest-growing percentage of seniors in the state, according to Census Bureau projections. Those projections have led to a proliferation of services for seniors, including housing complexes and estate planning services.

The county has yet to see a proliferation of funeral homes -two are in Columbia and Ellicott City, and a developer recently sought a zoning variance for a funeral home proposed for Highland - but Willie Howell Jr. said he hopes to be in the forefront.

"I want to go to Howard County because I'm a resident and I have a lot of friends there," he said. "There's a need because of the growth that's going on out there."

John Horan, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, said Howell's move to expand into the suburbs occurs often in the industry, and could be prosperous for his business.

Because people of the baby boomer generation - one that craves convenience - are the vast majority of those making funeral decisions today, it has become more important for funeral homes to be visible and nearby, he said.

"We're just like any other business that provides service - it helps when we go to where the people are," he said. "The No. 1 [factor in choosing a funeral home] is they were previously served there and served well. The second [factor] is location. It's a very, very powerful determinant of someone's funeral home."

Howell said he is following his business trends. He said about 10 percent of his business in the past four years has been from Howard County, and some of his competitors had more clientele driving from Howard to the city. Because the funeral home will be within the U.S. 1 business corridor, Howell also is taking advantage of low-interest rate loans available to help revitalize the area.

So the 9,000-square-foot building he has planned will be built with county residents in mind. It will boast a classic home decor with fireplaces in each of three viewing rooms, a circular foyer with a hardwood floor, a second-floor balcony, spiral stairs and a lounge for families. The exterior landscaping, to include a memorial garden, will help beautify the U.S. 1 corridor, he said. The garden, including a koi pond and waterfall, will be a place for families to visit, or perhaps hold outdoor services.

"The decor will remind you of an upscale home as opposed to a funeral home," he said. "We want people to come and feel relaxed, and not realize you are in a funeral home."

The funeral home in Howard County is the first part of an aggressive expansion plan for Howell's business. The Howell family has owned the business for four years, but their company is growing rapidly enough that the family has plans to build a third home in partnership with another funeral director in Anne Arundel County.

"The opportunity for growth is there," Howell said. "I'm doing the right thing at the right time."

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