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Opposition Mounts To Closure Of Two Bank Branches In The NEK

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Charlotte Albright
/
VPR
Kim Crady-Smith, co-owner of Green Mountain Books and Prints and the Grindstone Cafe in Lyndonville, is leading a petition drive to reverse a decision by Community National Bank to close two downtown branches, in Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury.

Opposition is building to a plan by Community National Bank to close two of its downtown locations in the Northeast Kingdom. Over 100 petitioners are asking the bank to reverse its decision, and there will be a public meeting about it this week.

In April, when the Derby-based corporation announced its plan to shutter downtown bank branches in Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury, Chief Operating Officer Kathy Austin said nearby locations along Route 5 offer more convenient drive-in access. And she said online transactions are reducing the need for bricks-and-mortar banking.

“Well, really where this starts is with the change in our customers’ habits,” she said.

But some walk-in customers don’t want to change their habits. Dot Brown lives in a subsidized apartment building a few steps away from the Lyndonville branch. She usually walks to her bank, though today she is driving a friend who needed a ride there.

As they leave the bank building next to the post office to get into their car parked a few steps away, Brown says she doesn’t like the drive-in location on the highway because motorists have to cross busy traffic. 

“And you have to wait down there; here you can get in and out pretty fast, and I really hate to see it close,” she said.

She’s thinking about shifting her account to another bank within walking distance from her apartment, and she says some of her friends are, too.

"I understand a lot of people might be changing, too, instead of having to travel. If they can't walk to the bank they're going have to go someplace else where they can." - Dot Brown, Lyndonville resident

“I understand a lot of people might be changing, too, instead of having to travel. If they can’t walk to the bank they’re going have to go someplace else where they can,” Brown said.

Kim Crady-Smith will also miss walking to the bank, and she’s angry about the decision to close it. Crady-Smith owns Green Mountain Books and Prints and Grindstone Café, both a few doors down from the Community National building. Crady-Smith says a bank with the word “community” in its name should re-think a decision that will harm a small town that has supported it over the years.

"I think that this downtown is already struggling in many ways and to take the bank out of the picture is just going to add to the struggle." - Kim Crady-Smith, business owner

“When the bank closes there’s going to be a large gap in our downtown area.” Crady-Smith said. “I think that this downtown is already struggling in many ways and to take the bank out of the picture is just going to add to the struggle.”

As a bookseller, Crady-Smith understands how online transactions are challenging local business, but she wants the bank to do what she’s doing — keep foot traffic downtown, to help other retailers as well.  She’s collected over 100 names on a petition asking that trustees reconsider closing a bank that’s operated at this location for over 100 years. And she’s holding a meeting at the Grindstone Café on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., where people can voice their opinions about the decision.

“So many people feel outraged about it that they need to have an outlet for that, they need to have a place to say, ‘This is wrong.”” she said.

But Community Bank CEO Stephen Marsh says 100 unhappy customers are unlikely to change his mind, because he has to serve the wider community, employees, and shareholders as well.

"It's a terribly tough decision and we understand we will get some flak out of it but it's the right decision for the overall bank at this point." - Community Bank CEO Stephen Marsh

“It’s a terribly tough decision and we understand we will get some flak out of it but it’s the right decision for the overall bank at this point,” Marsh said.

He says the drive-in branches are more popular than the downtown options. But bank data track transactions, not necessarily the number of people who visit each location each hour.  So it’s hard to know which bank can be called “busier.” Still, Marsh says four branches are too many in a ten-mile radius. He wants to keep Community National Bank efficient and profitable and says there are no plans for other closures at this time. Marsh says he does not expect to have much trouble finding a buyer for the Lyndonville building. The bank leases, not owns, the St. Johnsbury downtown office.

The doors in both places are scheduled to close by July 17. Four employees will lose their jobs, and customers with safety deposit boxes will have to arrange to re-locate them to other branches or banks.

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