Bonney-Watson CEO Cameron Smock said for the past several years he’d received a number of unsolicited offers to purchase the Capitol Hill funeral home site.
“I’d be lying if I said what we’re doing isn’t without a sheer of emotional angst. I started with the company 28 years ago and started in Capitol Hill,” Smock said, even living in a penthouse apartment there for three years “It’s not only been my work home, but my residence as well.”
When Bonney-Watson finally did publish a listing for the 1732 Broadway property on Wednesday, it received more than 30 inquiries.
“As I understand from our broker, there was a great deal of interest coming in within the first couple of hours,” Smock said.
Bonney-Watson boasts being one of the oldest continually running businesses in Seattle, and has been owned by the same three families for more than 100 years. Smock wants to assure people the company’s decision to sell its Capitol Hill location does not signal the end of Bonney-Watson.
“Candidly, we’ve been kind of looking at this for 3-5 years,” Smock said, “as to what ultimately the long-term plans are.”
When he joined Bonney-Watson in 1988, Smock said the funeral home was serving around 800 families annually. Over the last five years, he said that number has declined to around 200-300.
Smock cites a demographic change in Capitol Hill, from single-family residences to more multifamily housing and younger residents, for the decline in business, and also a shift from traditional funeral services. The Puget Sound region has one of the highest rates of cremations in the country, Smock said.
“All of those forces combining together, we’ve seen a core erosion of our business in Capitol Hill,” he said.
The amount of redevelopment going on in the Broadway corridor has also resulted in increased property values, and in turn more property taxes.
Smock said transportation construction in the neighborhood also had a negative effect on business over the past five years, causing limited access to Bonney-Watson’s onsite parking, which had been an asset for the funeral home.
The First Hill Streetcar began operating last January, followed by U-Link in March 2016, with new stops in Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.
“The good-news side is we think the property value is going to be higher from a buyer standpoint,” Smock said, “because of its relation to the light rail stations and streetcar stations.”
That’s why Bonney-Watson didn’t include a listing price, he said.
Bonney-Watson will continue to operate in Capitol Hill until it closes a sale on the property, and maybe longer, depending on the intentions and timeframe for redevelopment by a new owner, Smock said.
“We’re in no hurry to sell, candidly,” he said. “Our intention is to run the funeral home as long as possible.”
While Bonney-Watson may be exiting Capitol Hill — in a building it constructed back in 1962 — the company doesn’t want to stop helping those in the neighborhood needing funeral services.
“We still want to serve Capitol Hill, so the million-dollar question for us is what do we do once the Capitol Hill facility closes?” Smock said. “I’ve been looking at real estate in Seattle for the last couple years.”
That said, Smock can’t make the numbers “pencil out.” He said one possibility is to have a storefront in Capitol Hill, directing them to services, churches and other venues.
Bonney-Watson acquired a funeral home in Rainier Beach two years ago, and operates two others in SeaTac and Federal Way. Smock said business at those locations has either been stable or growing.
Staff handling the house care center operations in Capitol Hill will eventually relocate to SeaTac, Smock said, with other staff to be spread across Bonney-Watson’s other locations.