BUSHWICK — On a remote Bushwick corner by a subway tram lot and a strip of car dealerships, Vincent Carbone haggled over a pink headstone in the yard of his 97-year-old family shop.
"It'll read 'beloved mother and wife,' and it already says 'forever in our hearts' — you don't need any more than that," he told potential clients of Carbone Memorials as he ignored the L train rumbling overhead one recent morning. "The regular cost would be about $2,450, but I'll give it to you for $2,000. This is the best pink, from Canada."
As the grieving family debated the investment, along with other "Bahama blue," "ruby red" and "jet black" stones, Carbone balanced his best businessman game with sensitivity for their loss. That, he said, has been the secret to the success of the nearly century-old tombstone store, even as its neighboring cemetery has become packed with the deceased.
"Spaces in the Evergreens Cemetery are few and far between," Carbone, 71, said of the historic resting place that prompted his grandfather to open the shop in 1917 next to the Broadway Junction subway station.
"They're putting above-ground cemetery mausoleums there now, and thank God they hire me to put names on them," he said.
Carbone, whose grandfather used horses to set headstones when the 28-year-old Italian immigrant started the business, has survived — and thrived — through his flexibility in the shifting cemetery business, he said.
"I came out of the Army and could've been a police officer or come and worked with my father...When I took over I made a lot of changes. I guess when you come out of the Army you're aggressive," said Carbone, who served in the artillery in Germany during the Vietnam War.
"My father didn't even believe in color headstones."
Now Carbone Monuments offers a diverse rainbow of stones, plus engravings like praying hands and rosary beads, at prices from $900 to $2,800 a headstone, Carbone said. Geography has also shifted, with production of the monuments moving out of the Bushwick shop to Long Island as the store widened its horizons.
"I sell to cemeteries all over now, like Rosedale and Rosehill in New Jersey and Linden Hill, in Queens," he said.
Long Island resident Wanda Rodriguez was one of the family members who eventually purchased the pink monument for her mother-in-law for $1,800. "We came here because of a referral," she said. "I guess people from all over come here."
Carbone, who handed all four of his new clients heart-shaped Carbone magnets for their refrigerators before they left, said his "heart" is what keeps clients coming back for headstones.
"I'm proud," he said. "Let's just say, if I didn't gamble I'd have a couple of millions by now."