Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home: Two Black Women Pioneer in Brooklyn
By Mary Alice Miller
“Prospect Heights was not being served with a home-going facility” is the reason attorney Renaye Cuyler gives for teaming up with Maria Sealy to create a state-of-the-art funeral home in central Brooklyn.
Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home is the first black woman-owned and operated facility built from the ground up.
Located on Pacific St. between Franklin and Classon, Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home is making history. Financed at a cost of $1.5 million, the home occupies 5 lots in the middle of the block.
Turning onto Pacific from Franklin, you can see the home’s bright green beckoning to you. Two flags proudly blow in the wind, subtly hinting at the nature of personalized services offered inside.
Ms. Cuyler and Ms. Sealy pride themselves on the high quality custom services they provide, starting with the flags. The two flags flying outside always include the American flag. The other flag changes to that of the home country of the deceased or the family.
The ambience of the home creates a peaceful atmosphere with a skylight at the entrance, welcoming guests inside. There is an additional skylight inside, centrally located to stream natural light from the roof down to the lower level. According to Ms. Cuyler, the natural light provides an environmental comfort to families and friends.
The funeral home’s entrance features another sensitive touch- a ramp leads to both the first and lower levels. Both women are proud of the off- street parking the home provides. Ms. Cuyler: “We are one of two black-owned funeral homes in central Brooklyn that have adequate parking.”
The Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home has three chapels of varying sizes, a minister’s office and two private offices for consulting with families. There is a room featuring a choice of 13 caskets. “We taylor services to be within almost any budget,” says Ms. Cuyler.
Building the funeral home was not easy. Even with close to $400,000 of personal financing and a business plan well- researched and written by experienced attorney Renaye Cuyler, the ladies had a hard time obtaining financing. Although they worked with the Empire State Development Corp. and the Small Business Administration (which offers matching financing), no NYS bank in NYC that they approached (and they approached many) would assist with financing. Finally, Zion Bank, a bank in Utah with former ties to the Mormon Church, came through. Between the two ladies, they provided 29% of the $1.5 million cost. New York Bank came in as a resource after the facility was opened.
Ms. Cuyler and Ms. Sealy attribute the funeral home’s beautiful yet functional design to African-American architect James Robinson, who was recommended by a friend. Ms. Cuyler: “We believe in utilizing the services of competent black entrepreneurs.”
The process of building Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home was another odyssey. The previous owner had 5 contiguous lots that consisted of 4 brownstones that crumbled and were demolished 6 years ago. Unbelievably, it was only after closing that the ladies found two levels of debris had been buried underground. Originally, plans called for a two-level building with a first and second floor. Once the lots were cleared out, they decided to build a lower underground level, instead of filling in the space.
Cuyler and Sealy bought the lots in Dec. 2004; it was 18 months from excavation to completion.
Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home officially opened for business on Nov. 18, 2006.
Walking down the block, a visitor can see potential. There is a sports bar near Franklin Ave., and several auto repair shops on the opposite side of the street. There are three residential brownstone structures on the block: 1 is owned and occupied, 1 is being renovated and 1 is abandoned.
Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home enjoys a cordial relationship with its neighbors, Community Board #8, and Councilwoman Letitia James. James attended the opening ceremony. The community board helped with sealing up the abandoned brownstone. Over a year ago, the ladies put in a request to have trees planted on the block.
The future looks bright. A block or so away on Pacific between Washington and Grand, there are 5 construction sites building co-ops and condos. It is only a matter of time until development moves toward Franklin Ave.
In the meantime, Ms. Cuyler and Ms. Sealy have put down roots. They continue to do what they do: provide high quality sensitive service in a time of need. They are pioneers on a block in central Brooklyn that sorely needed it. Even though Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home is a state-of-the-art facility, Cuyler says “Black folk remain traditional. What they want is a good song and a good word to send their loved ones home. We provide both.”