Indian Lake convinces bank to stay;
other communities bring in new ones
By Mike De Socio
On a Monday morning ahead of an Indian Lake town board meeting, Brenda Valentine caught wind of some unsettling news: Community Bank was planning to close its branch in town.
Valentine, who is president of the Indian Lake Community Development Corp., knew this would leave the town of 1,300 without a bank, and force residents to drive 40 miles round trip to the nearest alternatives in North Creek or Long Lake. So she quickly started making calls.
“We all got together, got our heads together with the town, and said, ‘Okay, what do we do?’” Valentine said.
They thought maybe mailings or presentations could convince the bank otherwise, but none of that felt fast enough, Valentine said, until someone suggested Change.org. Soon, community leaders used the platform to publish an online petition and circulated it on social media. Within 48 hours, they received nearly 1,000 signatures.
A successful campaign
Community Bank has now changed course, opting to limit the bank’s hours to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, instead of closing entirely. The compromise, which goes into effect on April 12, is seen as a victory by Indian Lake residents, and represents a larger struggle to maintain bank access in small Adriondack communities.
“While a large portion of our Indian Lake customers currently utilize our online and mobile banking services, we understand the challenges of consistent internet service across the region,” said Hal Wentworth, Community Bank’s senior vice president of retail banking, in a statement. “We remain highly committed to our communities and upon considering those concerns and truly wanting to serve our customers, we have made the decision to have the Indian Lake branch remain open for three days each week.”
The decision also comes with changes to the Long Lake branch, which will now operate two days per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Brick and mortar remains popular
Timothy Pine, owner of Pine’s Country Store in the heart of Indian Lake, has seen firsthand the trends that led Community Bank to consider closing its branch. More than 70% of his sales last year were made with a credit card, and his young employees deposit their paychecks on their phones.
“I understand why they want to close or cut hours and cut costs, all businesses want to cut costs,” Pine said.
But even so, as a business owner Pine sees the physical bank branch as an important asset for the town. There are some banking needs that he can’t meet online, like securing a loan or cutting paychecks. He was one of the 1,000 locals who signed the petition to keep Community Bank open.
Valentine says keeping the physical branch alive, even in the age of online banking, is also essential for Indian Lake’s large senior citizen population.
Pine recognized this too. He said many residents can’t easily travel out of town, and rely on cash for their daily needs.
“It definitely affects different people [in] different ways, but I’m definitely glad they’re going to stay open some,” Pine said.
And Valentine pointed to the town’s limited internet access as another barrier for some community members.
“What about those who don’t have computers, those who are not computer savvy?” Valentine said.
Feeling the loss, filling the void
The residents of Keeseville had a small taste of that reality when their only branch, a TD Bank, closed abruptly in 2019. The nearest bank was only a few miles away in Peru, but it was still seen as a big loss.
“It’s the convenience of not having to travel outside of town to go do your banking, especially the way banks are, where some banks are not open on Saturday. For the working people, it’s very convenient, especially when they’re open until 4 or 5 p.m., most people can run there during lunch time,” said Clayton Barber, supervisor for the town of Chesterfield, which includes the Keeseville hamlet.
A small satellite of the Peru Federal Credit Union popped up in Keeseville to fill the void, and saw membership grow rapidly. Barber worked with the credit union to redevelop a vacant lot — the site of a former Grand Union supermarket — and build a proper branch, which opened in January.
“They’re quite impressed with the business they’ve already received,” Barber said. “The longer they’re there, the more business they’re going to get.”
Maggie Pope, CEO of Peru Federal Credit Union, said it’s been “amazing” to see how well the risk of opening a new branch in Keeseville has paid off. But it doesn’t surprise her, as she’s always known how the credit union’s members appreciate the presence of a physical branch.
Buoyed by the success in Keeseville, the credit union is planning another new branch in Wilmington, a community that is currently only served by an NBT Bank ATM kiosk. The idea came from community members who suggested the bank remodel a former hardware store into a branch with a drive-thru.
“I really feel that we would definitely be serving an unserved, underserved area,” Pope said of the plans to open the Wilmington branch.
It’s a testament to the importance of physical bank branches in small Adirondack towns, which Valentine and fellow Indian Lake community members tried to impress on Community Bank’s management. The leaders of 24 organizations in town flooded Community Bank with letters and calls, on top of the petition they had already delivered.
“They came together to say, look please don’t leave us. And they did not,” Valentine said.
She plans to meet with Community Bank leaders soon and figure out how the bank can work back up to five days of operation, but for now, “three days is better than no days,” she said.
The sense of victory in Indian Lake is palpable. In the days after the bank decided to stay open, Valentine said trips to the post office or hardware store invited cheers and honks from passing cars. In all of her years working in community outreach, this effort stands out to Valentine as one of unusual unity.
“I’ve never seen a community come together so rapidly as this one did,” Valentine said.
Joan Grabe says
Glimmers of hope all around ! Local consumer banks, grocery stores, libraries and schools define a community while increased community action and local and homegrown economic activity show signs of revitalized Adirondack communities. The pandemic has given towns and organizations the room to delve into plans for the future but especially, plans on how to take care of each other in a crisis.
Cristine Meixner says
Brenda Valentine is such an asset for Indian Lake. She knows how to get things done. I hope she is appreciated.