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.