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East Elmhurst’s Cobbs mortuary opens after renovation

When Winston Cobbs opened his funeral home in 1963 in East Elmhurst, he probably had little idea his business would become a cornerstone of the community that has supported many a neighbor, from politicians to those who could pay close to nothing for a burial, during one of the hardest times in life.

In the nearly 50 years that Cobbs Funeral Chapels has been open on Astoria Boulevard, countless numbers of people have passed through its doors and often found Winston Cobbs, a former Virginia man who hailed from a family of doctors, there to comfort them as they said their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Cobbs, who died of cancer last year, poured his all into his business and would have been elated to see the newly renovated chapels open last week, family and friends said.

“He loved his job,” Winston Cobbs Jr. said of his father. “It got to the point where he didn’t want to go on vacation. He was a well-liked guy who loved to serve his community.”

Hundreds of people turned out Saturday to celebrate the renovated Cobbs Funeral Chapels at 98-08 Astoria Blvd. The younger Cobbs, his father’s only child, began to renovate the business a year ago. The space above the viewing rooms, once four apartment units, is now being used for the funeral home and the business has added technology to its services, including video tributes, online obituaries and streaming funerals live on the web so those who cannot attend will be able to see the services.

Sandra Johnson, manager of Cobbs Funeral Chapels, noted they would offer educational seminars to help residents plan for death.

“It’s fantastic,” said Alfreda Cobbs, the older Winston Cobbs’ wife. “It’s so different.”

As East Elmhurst’s demographics changed from predominantly Italian in the 1960s to a middle-class black neighborhood when Winston Cobbs Jr. was growing up to a large Hispanic population now, the services provided to the area have evolved. The home has three funeral directors, one of whom speaks fluent Spanish to cater to the neighborhood.

“Queens County is the most ethnically diverse county, and we want to provide for everyone,” said Cobbs Jr., a doctor who lives in Nassau County. “We had a Muslim funeral the other day, and we serve the Hispanic community. It doesn’t matter what race or religion you are or what language you speak. We’re here for you.”

Many in the community remembered Cobbs Funeral Chapels as a place where anyone could go — whether they had money or not.

“He helped people even if they couldn’t pay,” said state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), whose father was buried by Cobbs Funeral Chapels. “This is a facility all of us have been in so many times for friends, for families. It’s a family institution that is a place of consolation in your time of sorrow.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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