Philip Costanzo has a rebuilding project on his hands.
Costanzo, 52, has purchased Maynard’s Monumental Works in Waterford - on his third try - renaming it Tri-County Memorials. This is Costanzo’s third store, as he owns one in Norwich and Willimantic.
Maynard’s, meanwhile, was the subject of a news investigation and ultimately an investigation by the state’s attorney’s office after the company was taking deposits from people and then never giving them their monument. In one highly-publicized case, Maynard's took a deposit from a mother for a gravestone for her son, and never built it. Costanzo, who saw the news report, stepped in, and built one for the mother.
Now, he has bought the company, and has begun filling the 20 orders that were never completed by Maynard's. In those cases, the people paid a deposit for a monument, and the order was never filled. In one case, the person was waiting almost a decade, he said.
“We are getting those taken care of now,” he said. "And, as you can imagine, some of the people are ecstatic."
Costanzo is confident that he’ll shed any bad feelings associated with Maynard’s. He said he has built a strong reputation in his other two stores by focusing on the customer, and it won’t take long for word-of-mouth to spread about his newest location.
“We’ll turn it around,” Costanzo said. “We always believed in giving the customer what they want... I always say, I can invest a lot of money on advertising, or I can invest it into the customers. I pick the customers.”
Several years ago, Costanzo tried to buy Maynard’s Monumental Works, but was denied. He tried again in May to buy the store, but was rebuffed again. Finally, in October, he reached a deal to buy the store.
For years, Costanzo worked for a giant corporation as an accountant, and would spend months on the road at a time. So in 1998, when his uncle and aunt were looking to retire, he took over Tri-County Memorials without much hesitation.
The move came with a big pay cut for him. But for Costanzo, it meant not having to go on month-long business trips and gave him time to spend with his girlfriend, who later became his wife and the mother of his two children.
“I made a lot more money in the corporate world,” he said. “But that was no fun. Here, I have no stress. I work a lot, but I don’t have that stress.”
He has done gravestones for every type of person, from people in their 80s buying it before they die to a child who died unexpectedly. He said one story that stuck out to him was a father he sold a tombstone to for his 3-year-old son.
“He said he learned more in his three years from his son than he learned in his entire life,” Costanzo said. “He was just glad that he had his son for three years, rather than never having him at all.”
Aside from putting the time in with the customers, Costanzo said the key to his business is his employees, who he calls his best assets. Michelle Benoit, who Costanzo hired in December to work the Waterford store, said he is a great boss.
"Phil is excellent to work for," she said. "He creates a very positive work environment."
Costanzo has done every type of gravestone, from one where the people wanted a marijuana cigarette etched into the memorial to another where a family asked – but eventually was talked out of – putting three Budweiser frogs on the gravestone. He has done architectural work at several colleges as well, including Princeton University and MIT.
So what is he planning for a memorial?
“I always said, I want a garbage truck mausoleum,” said Costanzo, who worked as a garbage man in college. “I would love that, but my wife would never allow it.”
Tri-County Memorials is located at 231 Boston Post Road.