Citizens Bank Closing Office On Maple St. in White River Junction

Valley News Business Writer
Saturday, December 03, 2016

White River Junction — A bank has stood at the corner of Maple Street and Pine Street in White River Junction for 41 years. Soon, the teller’s window will close — likely for good.

Citizens Bank is shuttering its White River Junction branch office on Feb. 17.

The closing of the branch, which shares a parking lot with the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society’s White River Junction store and is across Maple Street, also known as Route 4, from the Hartford town offices, is the latest example of how banks are grappling with changes in consumer habits and technology that are altering how people manage their money.

Citizens Bank, in a notice to depositors, said offices in Lebanon, West Lebanon and Hanover would remain open for business. The bank also operates branches in Claremont, Woodstock and Springfield, Vt.

For people who like to bank the old-fashioned way, the branch’s closing is more than an annoyance.

“I’m not happy about it,” said Melody Martin, 68, a retired cook at Hartford High School, as she left the bank after retrieving the contents of her safe deposit box last week. Martin said she’s been a customer of the branch since the bank’s early years.

She bemoaned the prospect of having to drive to West Lebanon to deposit her monthly Social Security check. “It’s more convenient for the elderly to have a branch like this,” the Wilder resident said. “I don’t like traffic.”

Citizens Bank, in a statement, said the decision to close the branch was made after a review of the location’s business.

“We consistently review customer traffic patterns and preferences at our branches to help us refine our approach to meeting customer needs,” the statement said. “After a recent review, we made the business decision to consolidate the White River Junction branch. Given the increasing popularity of mobile and online banking, we have significantly expanded these services and are continuing to invest in this area as we also make improvements to our ATM network and in-branch services.”

It noted that the nearest Citizens Bank branch, in West Lebanon on Route 12A, is “approximately two miles away.”

Headquartered in Providence, R.I., Citizens Bank reported $138.2 billion in total assets as of Dec. 31, 2015, and says it is the 13th largest retail bank holding company in the U.S., according to regulatory filings. The bank operates 1,200 branches in 11 states across the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, including 71 branches in New Hampshire and 20 in Vermont.

The decision by Citizens Bank to close the White River Junction branch came as corporate consulting firm Bain & Co. released a study that emphasized the cost-savings for banks that promote the adoption of mobile applications among customers for simple transactions. Ironically, the 33-page study found, the strategy can also promote pitfalls: About 40 percent of customers worldwide “who experienced a branch closure took their business to other banks.”

“Given that many consumers still use a branch … it would be dangerous to make large cuts to the brick-and-mortar network until customers find it easy to handle routine transactions through self-service digital channels,” the Bain study said.

The corner of Maple and Main streets in White River Junction has reflected the consolidation that has swept the U.S. banking system. The bank at that location has changed its name seemingly every few years following mergers and acquisitions. Citizens Bank took over the location after it acquired Charter One Financial in 2004. Previously, the location was an Albank branch and before that it was a branch of Marble Bank, which opened the location in 1975.

Earlier in their careers, several Upper Valley bank executives at one time or another worked at the White River Junction location at one or more of the predecessor banks, including Teri Minelli, vice president and mortgage loan originator at Lake Sunapee Bank; Kevin Raleigh, senior vice president and commercial loan officer at Mascoma Savings Bank; Heather LeBlanc, assistant branch manager at the West Lebanon branch of Lake Sunapee Bank; Rich Kozlowski, vice president, residential mortgage lending manager at Mascoma; Pam English, vice president, mortgage loan officer at Mascoma, and Candace Brown with Mascoma’s Hanover office.

“At one time it was a very vibrant bank,” said Raleigh, who worked at the White River Junction location when it was owned by Marble Savings Bank in the 1980s. “When I started, 25 to 30 employees worked there. We had consumer lending, mortgage lending, consumer credit departments, but for the past 20 years its primarily been personal banking.”

On Monday, a visitor to the bank saw only two tellers and a branch manager working there.

The 9,350-square-foot building, which includes 1,390 square feet on the second floor and a 3,586-square-foot basement level, is assessed at $545,000, according to Hartford records. Phoenix-based commercial real estate investment firm Vereit, which specializes in shopping plaza properties, bought the building from Citizens Bank for $1.4 million in 2006, according to records.

The executive contact for single-property management at Vereit did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The closing of the branch opens up an opportunity along the busy street that serves as the crossing point over the Connecticut River between White River Junction and West Lebanon — perhaps for a restaurant to serve people working in the new office complex on nearby Prospect Street, according to Bruce Waters, a senior broker with Lang McLaughry Commercial in Lebanon.

“The building should be positioned for re-purposing and should be attractive to the market,” Waters said via email. The corner of Maple Street and Pine Street “is a very attractive corner and offers great exposure. ... There needs to be more service businesses in that area.”

But he said he thinks the chance of the building becoming another bank is slim.

“The day of opening up new banks, with the pressure of online banking, is in serious jeopardy,” Waters said. “However, I have been wrong before.”

Bank customers, meanwhile, will have little choice but to adapt.

Martin, the longtime customer of the White River Junction location, said she wouldn’t be looking to open a new safe deposit box at another bank branch.

Instead, she said, as she pulled open the door to her car, “I’m going to take it to my sons and let them worry about it.”

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or jlippman@vnews.com.