A Queens man who is hawking souvenirs from the borough’s iconic casket company is digging his own grave — legally speaking.
Gary Comorau has been selling South Brooklyn Casket Company T-shirts and other garb on his own website — but now the multinational funeral company that bought the Gowanus gravemaker in 2005 wants to put his business venture six feet under on the grounds that he is violating their copyright.
But Comorau is whistling past the graveyard.
“I’ve ignored their ‘cease-and-desist’ letter,” he boasted this week. “My company has no assets, and I don’t sell many shirts. Who cares?”
Well, Matthews International, the publicly traded funeral supply company based in Pittsburgh, does.
“We don’t sell casket trinkets,” Heidi Knapp, a human resources administrator with Matthews, said gravely.
If it is true that only the dead know Brooklyn, it is also true that Brooklyn-themed souvenirs are a very lively market indeed. Slap the word “Brooklyn” on something and it sells, as the folks from Neighborhoodies have long known and the owners of the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets will no doubt discover.
The prospect for riches and notoriety was not initially part of Comorau’s plan. For three decades, he worked as a software engineer for the company, which remains based at Union Street between Third Avenue and Nevins Street next to the Gowanus Canal.
But when Matthews came in, Comorau was sacked. On his way out, he grabbed a case or two of the old T-shirts that South Brooklyn Casket Company owner Harry Pontone would give away to funeral homes and other industry insiders.
The shirts have an unmistakable macabre charm.
“I liked the shirts,” said Brighton Beach–born Comorau. “This is classic Brooklyn. Everyone who sees it, likes it. This was a part of Brooklyn.”
When he ran out of his original supply, Comorau did a redesign and began selling the shirts and hoodies in earnest in 2008.
Pontone, who still operates the Brooklyn factory for Matthews, said he knew nothing of Comorau’s legalistic stab in the back.
“We never sold shirts,” he said. “What advantage would that give me? I think it’s ridiculous. How can he use the name ‘Brooklyn Casket’?”
Funeral home operators were perplexed, too.
“I don’t know if it is macabre, but I think it’s a little unusual,” said Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto, owner of Scotto Funeral Home in Carroll Gardens, a longtime customer of the 79-year-old casket firm.
Besides an inspiration for merchandisers, the South Brooklyn Casket Company has long served as a muse for area artists, most notably in the song, “The South Brooklyn Casket Company,” by the band Shivley.
“I couldn’t remember what I did — something awful/Couldn’t remember what I’d buried/But I know it’ll come back to haunt me/South Brooklyn Casket Company.”
Of course, if that could fit on a T-shirt, Comorau might start selling it, too.