The Salerno family is entering its 100th full year of operation in the funeral industry, a major milestone by anyone’s standards. But they’ve also kept pace with the times. With its neoclassic atrium crowned by a striking peaked skylight, Salerno’s Rosedale Chapels in Roselle defies any dreary funeral home stereotype, as does the family’s Galewood Chapels on Harlem near North in Chicago.
But ever since the first parlor opened its doors a century ago, Rosario D. Salerno established a tradition of compassionate service that his descendants honor with pride. “We still do business the way he did,” says Joe Salerno, 73. He’s Rosario’s grandson and the third of four Salerno generations running the operation.
What does that mean? “We extend credit to people, we don’t charge interest, and we don’t ask for full payment up front,” Joe offers as just a few examples. “We’re still family owned. We still do things the way my grandfather and my dad did, and we’re successful because of it.”
Of course, it’s not exactly as it was at the start. When Rosario D. Salerno opened his first parlor on DeKoven Street (where the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started), many of his Italian clients lacked the means to pay in cash. Rosario took care of them anyway.
“My grandfather would barter, he’d make whatever kind of trade to help people out during their time of need,” recalls Joe, who has Calabrese roots on both sides of his family. “There was a guy on Taylor Street who had a big fruit stand, who needed a funeral but couldn’t afford it. So he supplied my grandfather’s family with fruit.”
The family feel of the business remains as strong as ever. Joe’s son George runs the Chicago location full time, and his other son, Frank, provides part-time help as needed. Both are morticians as well as lawyers, and can help grieving families with probate and estate matters through on-site legal counsel.
Joe can tell you stories of families across Chicagoland that seek his services no matter how far away they live, because Salerno Chapels handled funerals for previous generations of their loved ones.
No matter how busy both locations get, the Salernos are never too busy to return a call. “A lot of people pass away during the night, and we have an answering service,” Joe says. “The woman who answers the phone passes the calls to George or me, and we call the people back no matter what hour it is. They’re shocked to get a call back from us directly.”
Typically, Joe or George will meet with the family the next morning to work out the details. That’s not just good business: It’s kind, gentle care for loved ones during a heartbreaking and often overwhelming time.
“We try to give the most compassionate service possible,” Joe says. “That’s because I’ve sat at the other end of the desk. When my mother died, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do.”
But when families call at a time of loss, he knows exactly what to do: “It’s the personal touch. We take care of every family personally. My dad taught me how to deal with people and work with people. That’s what got me involved in this business.”
Salerno Funeral Chapels
450 W. Lake St.
Roselle, Ill. 60172