Niagara Gazette — At a glance, it’s obvious that banks are closing branches faster than opening them. There’s a distinct impression out there: branch banks are a dying breed.
The latest vacancy in downtown Niagara Falls is the landmark Niagara County Savings Bank, near Third and Niagara streets. In its latter days — until it closed Jan. 24 — it was a Bank of America, part of the nation’s largest bank. Earlier a corporate spokesman said they planned to close 1 in 10 branches nationwide by this year.
In the past three years, banks have eliminated more than 1,500 branches. Closer to the home front, HSBC withdrew all its operations from the retail sector in Western New York, with a number of those offices re-opening under the First Niagara flag. Many of the closures were attributed to the depressed economy, the soaring increase of regulations that force banks to cut their expenses, plus all the costly restrictions on credit card charges and debit card fees.
Longtime residents will remember the Niagara County Savings Bank as one of the leading financial institutions in the area. In fact, it was known as the “hometown bank,” when it was organized May 10, 1890, the same year that work began here on one of the biggest hydro-electric power companies in the world. That was two years before the state Legislature approved the charter for the City of Niagara Falls.
It hurts to hear people say we don’t need branch banks anymore because more customers are going through the Internet, the ATMs and smartphones. The fact remains everyone is not savvy when it comes to the Internet and other electronic devices. And any way the mega banks view it, the personal touch still has its merits.
About two weeks ago, a work crew using a high forklift removed the huge red-lettered “Bank of America” from the Third Street building. Niagara County Savings had first been located on the east side of Main Street, south of Falls Street, before relocating to 305 Niagara St. where it remained until its Third Street building opened in 1921.
While the Bank of America sign has disappeared from the side of the building, the original name of the impressive structure is etched in stone, high above the main entrance: Niagara County Savings Bank.
The vacant building is listed with Arista Real Estate & Development, LLC, with a regional office in Tonawanda, known for its expertise and wide range of services including brokerage and leasing. The property, a couple of blocks from the Niagara Falls State Park, should be ideal for development.
Through the decades, several other banks have played a major role in the community with their executives and employees directly involved with endeavors such as the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, and many service clubs and organizations.
LONG JOURNEY: The Seattle Seahawks had no trouble beating the Denver Broncos but the weather was another matter for the Super Bowl champions. Their charter flight was delayed by a snowstorm in Newark, N.J., for a couple of hours and then the plane diverted to Minneapolis. The team finally arrived home about 6 p.m. Monday.
On a related note, if you saw the pre-game coin toss at MetLife Stadium, Joe Namath’s new fur coat must have caught your eye. That coyote jacket with the white fox trim cost $2,995 at the Marc Kaufman store in Manhattan. By Monday, the furrier was taking orders for the same coat from Dubai, Colorado and Washington State, according to a New York Post article.
HELPING HANDS DEPT.: Paul Milleville, the supervisor of newspaper carriers and district managers in the Niagara Gazette’s circulation department, notes the youngsters and their bosses have been braving the bitter elements to make sure they complete the daily home deliveries. “They don’t always get the credit they deserve,” Milleville said, alluding to the early risers who need to finish their rounds before heading off to school.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Where is the only tunnel in New York state that runs under the Erie Canal? Hint: It’s not that far away. (Answer Sunday)Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.