SCI Suing Another Funeral Home Over Name Rights
Syracuse, NY — Fifteen years ago, one of the biggest funeral chains in North America added Syracuse to its empire by paying more than $6 million for Pirro & Sons, one of the area?s most prestigious and successful mortuaries.
As it does in other cities, Service Corporation International went on to snap up other area mom-and-pop funeral homes in Syracuse to add to its chain of more than 1,200 mortuaries.
Now the Pirros have split from SCI and one has started an independent mortuary, Thomas J. Pirro Funeral Home, in Salina. That move has sparked a fight between SCI and the well-known Syracuse family of morticians over the right to use the name ?Pirro.?
SCI is suing the Pirros and will take its case before a judge in February.
A judge denied a request from SCI for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Thomas J. Pirro Sr. and his son, Thomas J. Pirro Jr., from using the name. Pirro Jr. owns the business and his father owns the property.
In her July ruling, state Supreme Court Judge Deborah Karalunas said the family can use the name while the suit is pending as long as it lets the public know the new funeral home is not affiliated with Pirro & Sons.
SCI is appealing that ruling.
In court papers, the funeral giant accuses the Pirros of trying to woo Pirro & Sons customers by sending them flower arrangements and recruiting Pirro & Sons employees ? charges the Pirros deny.
?The biggest problem is: It?s confusing to consumers,? SCI spokeswoman Lisa Marshall said.
Pirro Jr., 39, a fourth-generation mortician, said customers are confused because they don?t know who they are dealing with when they call Pirro & Sons to arrange funerals.
?They don?t realize there are no Pirros there anymore,? he said. ?People are calling, thinking they will get the Pirros and they aren?t.?
SCI entered the Syracuse market in 1995 by purchasing Pirro & Sons from Thomas Pirro Sr. and his brother, Donald Pirro.
SCI paid $6.2 million for the prominent Syracuse funeral business, which was founded in 1914, according to court papers. That purchase also included the Bagozzi Twins Funeral Home, in Solvay, that the Pirros had previously acquired.
After it acquired Pirro & Sons, the funeral chain bought Farone & Son Funeral Home, Hollis Funeral Home and Marsellus Casket Co. It subsequently closed Pirro & Sons at 314 Turtle St. and merged it with Farone & Son at 1500 Park St., three blocks away. SCI also sold Hollis and closed Marsellus Casket.
When the Pirros sold out to SCI, they agreed not to start a competing business for 15 years. They became employees of SCI, operating Pirro & Sons and other funeral homes.
Thomas J. Pirro Jr. left SCI in 2006. His father and uncle left the following year.
?Some of the things that were going on, we didn?t agree with,? Pirro Jr. said. They did not like changes SCI made to cut overhead costs, he said.
After parting ways with SCI, Pirro Jr. said, he missed the funeral business. He said he frequently encountered people who asked if he and his father would return to the business.
?We treated every family like they were a member of our own family,? Pirro Jr. said. ?That was what made the difference and that was what people missed. That was some of the driving force for us getting back in the business.?
Pirro Sr. bought a building formerly occupied by State Farm insurance at 3401 Vickery Road, off Buckley Road. It was converted into a 12,500-square-foot funeral home with three funeral parlors, one of them a large chapel that can seat more than 125 people.
The one-story mortuary has a portico at the entrance big enough to cover six cars and to keep funeral-goers from getting wet in a rainstorm. The building is fully accessible to those with disabilities, and it has parking for 120 cars.
?We put in a lot of extras,? Pirro Jr. said. ?We?re only doing it once.?
Pirro Jr. opened the new funeral home on June 28, the same day the family?s 15-year noncompete agreement with SCI expired.
Before the temporary injunction was denied, Pirro briefly covered his funeral home?s outdoor sign with a sign reading, ?Family Funeral Chapel.?
?We lived up to the noncompete agreement and assumed afterward we could get back into the business anytime we wanted,? Pirro Jr. said. ?It wasn?t that simple.?
Marshall, of SCI, said her company purchased the Pirro name as part of its acquisition of Pirro & Sons in 1995.
?Our goal is to serve the families of Syracuse,? she said. ?We?ve been doing that for 15 years under the Pirro name with compassion and care, and we want to continue doing that.?
In court papers, SCI said the Pirros have been soliciting customers of Pirro & Sons by sending them flower arrangements. Confused customers are contacting Pirro & Sons, thanking them for the flowers, the lawsuit says.
In an affidavit, Pirro Jr. said his family has been sending flowers to personal acquaintances for more than 30 years, regardless of where the services are held. He called the flowers a ?personal gesture of sympathy.?
SCI contends in its suit the name ?Pirro? is entitled to protection as a trademark.
But the Pirros argue in court papers SCI cannot claim to own the exclusive right to ?Pirro? because other businesses in the area, such as Pirro Brothers Ford and Dave Pirro Ford, also use the family name prominently.
In court papers, Pirro Jr. said he has a son interested in continuing the family business.
?Neither my father nor I would ever have signed an agreement that foreclosed future generations from using their names in the pursuit of their careers,? Pirro Jr. said.
Photo: Thomas J. Pirro Jr., owner of the newly opened Thomas J. Pirro Funeral Home, in Salina, sits in the driver’s seat of a hearse in front of his business at 3401 Vickery Road. Service Corporation International, owner of Pirro & Sons Funeral Home, in Syracuse, has filed a lawsuit to stop him from using “Pirro” in the name of his new funeral home. (Mike Greenlar / The Post-Standard)
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