Bank of America plans to shut low-volume branches in several Washington towns. Darrington wonders how its business will go on if the nearest bank is 30 miles away.
DARRINGTON, Snohomish County — Can a community exist without a bank?
That’s what the residents of Darrington, an old logging and mill community of roughly 3,000, are wondering in light of the news that their only bank, a Bank of America branch, is closing Sept. 9.
The next-closest bank of any kind is in Arlington, a 30-mile drive through fields and foothills. Going “down below,” a term residents use to refer to any place outside their small community, is a trip those who bank locally say they would have no other reason to make.
Most Read Local Stories
- The myth at the heart of the praying Bremerton coach case
- Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo jettisons COO, conservation exec and animal care director
- WA license plates to get more expensive July 1
- 8 people shot outside music event in Tacoma
- Fate of King County wineries, breweries and distilleries once again in County Council's hands
Though a Bank of America spokeswoman wouldn’t say how many accounts there were at the local branch, business owners, from looking at the checks they receive, estimate about half the community’s residents have personal accounts in town.
“At this point we do not have a bank and the time is quickly running out,” said Joyce Jones, a longtime resident and the 71-year-old mayor of Darrington.
Jones said she worries about the elderly residents who don’t have cars; the inconvenience for organizers and visitors during the bluegrass and rock festivals, which attract important tourist dollars; and even her town government, which has to make deposits at the bank daily.
Darrington is among five rural Washington towns being affected by a Bank of America consolidation plan, which will close 100 low-volume branches while adding 100 branches and 250 full-service ATMs nationwide.
The Washington towns of Okanogan, Republic, Sumas and Sultan will also lose their Bank of America branches, said Diane Wagner, a company spokeswoman based in Chicago.
Though most of the towns have a close alternative branch or ATM, Republic also will be hit hard — the next-closest branch is nearly 40 miles away in Colville, Stevens County.
Darrington will still have ATMs, though residents and Wagner aren’t sure if one of those will be a Bank of America machine. If the Bank of America ATM goes, the bank’s customers will be charged to get cash from one of the town’s other machines.
“I think they’re very concerned with how they’re going to bank with us,” Wagner said, suggesting that Darrington residents could bank over the Internet or by mail. “People choose how they want to bank with us.”
But residents say that after the branch is gone, most won’t want to use Bank of America at all.
“We didn’t hear much of anything until they announced they were leaving,” said Jones, who is upset with the lack of warning given by the bank (letters to customers dated June 10 were sent out over the past week). “If the bank leaves, we’re not going with them.”
Some residents, especially the elderly and those without vehicles, can’t go with them. George Bowman Jr., a 75-year-old former millworker and a Bank of America customer, said he simply can’t make the drive to Arlington just to bank.
“I couldn’t drive down below. I don’t know what the hell I’ll do,” he said, gripping a cigarette outside the bank branch. “You just about have to have a bank.”
Town leaders worry the loss of the bank could reverse the modest growth the community has seen over the past several years. Residents and council members have worked hard to attract businesses and residents since the logging industry in the area slowed to a crawl in the late 1980s.
Dan Rankin, a 44-year-old overall-wearing, small-mill owner and town council member, said that when he learned of the bank’s plan to leave, he got a “sickening feeling of another small town on that slippery slope.” A town without a bank is a “sinking ship,” he said.
Randy Ashe, family owner of the local grocery, Darrington IGA, said if the bank leaves, his business and other local businesses will likely have to hire a courier to make cash deposits in Arlington. However, he’s hopeful that recent talks with community banks might attract a competitor to take Bank of America’s place. He said one bank might agree as early as next week to set up a branch in the community, though he wouldn’t name the bank.
A new bank might even be able to help the community grow by offering lower requirements to qualify for loans, Ashe speculated. “We’re hoping it could be a good thing for Darrington,” he said.
Brian Alexander: 425-745-7813 or firstname.lastname@example.org