Banks closing in downtown Canton

SunTrust and PNC Bank to close in early 2013
By DeeAnna Haney | Dec 07, 2012
Photo by: DeeAnna Haney The Canton branch of the SunTrust bank is located in an historic building on Main Street.

CANTON — The number of financial institutions will be cut by half in Canton early next year when two banks consolidate branches.

SunTrust and PNC banks will be closing their downtown Canton branches after the New Year, leaving First Citizen's Bank and Champion Credit Union as the only financial institutions with a physical presence in Canton.

SunTrust will be closing its branch on Main Street in Canton on Jan. 18 and its branch in Pack Square, Asheville Jan. 11.

"The opening and closing of branches has become a natural part of ensuring that SunTrust is able to maximize its market opportunities and meet the needs of its clients in an efficient and effective manner. The decision to close a branch is made only after careful study and analysis," said Michael McCoy, a media relations officer for the bank.

Although the Canton branch will no longer be available, customers will still be able to access their accounts through other branches, ATMs, on the website and over the phone, he said.

The ATM attached to the front of the Main Street building will remain open.

The 10 employees affected by the closings at both sites will be eligible to apply for positions at other SunTrust branches.

PNC Bank offered similar reasons for the closure, saying they occasionally review networks at different branches to determine whether they can operate with fewer locations.

Fred Soloman, a spokesman for PNC, said the Canton branch will be consolidating with the Candler location and will close at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22.

All customer accounts will automatically transfer to the Candler bank on that date.

Any customer who has a safety deposit box in Canton is asked to retrieve their items by Friday, Feb. 15, Soloman said.

He said the closure will affect about 10 employees, who will be allowed to apply for jobs at other branches.

It's unclear what will happen to the buildings that will be left vacant after the closures.

Currently, SunTrust leases the building at 101 Main Street from First State Investor's, a company in Richmond, Virginia.

The lease lasts until 2015, but "In terms of plans for the duration of the lease, we expect — working with the building’s owner — to evaluate and consider sublease opportunities for the space," McCoy said.

Nathan Batts, senior vice president and counsel for the N.C. Bankers Association, said consolidation has been a common trend among banks in the state.

But with 122 banks having headquarters or branches in North Carolina, he said the state has one of the strongest banking industries in the country. As of June 30, there were 2,720 bank offices across the state.

Banks sometimes choose to consolidate for efficiency or cost savings, he said.

"When you do have a branch consolidated, that can create opportunities for other financial facilities. So you may have another bank looking to grow in that community," Batts said.

Losing Customers

For some customers, the closing of either location will mean finding a new place to bank.

PNC customer Wirt Skinner said the news came as a surprise to him and his wife, who have been banking at that location since RBC Centura was there.

"It's a sad day," he said, adding that he and his wife continued to bank there when PNC Bank took over RBC Centura because they enjoyed the people who worked there. "I will miss the staff more than anything else," he said.

Traveling to Candler to make deposits would be difficult for them, he said, which is why they are looking to move their accounts to a new bank.

Longtime SunTrust customer and employee of the Canton Police Department, Cpt. Carroll Greene said he previously tried other banks in the area, but SunTrust was his favorite.

"They've always been friendly, given good service and have been very professional. I hate to see them go," he said.

The branch is within walking distance from his home and work, which is convenient when he wants to deal directly with a teller.

"As far as being able to talk in person to know if a check has cleared, you won't be able to do that anymore," Greene said.

Customer Sean Hall agreed, saying he prefers making transactions in person rather than through a machine.

"I don't want to have to spend $5 in gas just to make a deposit in Waynesville or Asheville," he added.

Even the Town of Canton, which has banked with SunTrust for several years, is now having to research different local banks.

"We accumulate cash and have to make deposits daily," said Town Manager Al Matthews. "Convenience is the primary reason but we also have to be watchful of people's money because commercial accounts are charged for various services."

SunTrust has always worked well with the town by waiving extra fees on accounts and services, but now they may have to pay for those same services elsewhere.

"It will be another added expense in town operations," Matthews said.

Steeped in history

Wayne Carson, director of the Canton Area Historical Museum, said the building at the southwest corner of Main and Academy streets where SunTrust is located has been through several transformations.

The two-story home of Colonel G. W. Hampton was built on that plot of land in 1890 and was later owned by his heir, Harriet Hampton Cochran.

Champion Bank, which was organized in 1916 and started with $10,000, was located where @Home Computer Services now sits adjacent to the current SunTrust building.

That bank closed in 1932 during the Great Depression, he said, and in 1933, the Bank of Clyde announced plans to open a Canton branch at that location.

The Bank of Clyde eventually merged into Haywood County Bank and purchased the land where SunTrust now sits from the Hampton family in 1925.

The current building, which is made of sandstone and brick, was built in 1936. According to "Canton: The Architecture of our Hometown," a book written by Camille Wells and the Canton Historical Commission in 1985, it was "designed to give Canton residents confidence in the weight and performance of the banking institution."

For many years, the bank was the only bank in Canton. Then, in 1958 Haywood County Bank merged with First Union National Bank.

A large set of scales and a safe original to Champion Bank are on display in the SunTrust lobby. Carson said he remembers bank customers weighing themselves on the scales as they came in for banking services.

Talks are underway between the museum and the owner of the building, which also owns the scales and safe, to donate the items to the museum when the branch closes.

Carson plans to display the scales on the main floor of the museum, but the 5,000-pound safe will be placed on the bottom floor, he said.

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