Alison Hero thought she was ready for the pandemic, even as COVID-19 tore around the globe, shuttering businesses. She prepared an updated menu on a new online ordering system for her restaurant, Silverwater Café, in the small town of Port Townsend, with a goal of creating to-go, family-style meals. Like many, Hero assumed the pandemic might lead to a month of temporary closure.
In March 2020, Silverwater Café shut down to in-person dining, like so many other restaurants, but remained busy thanks to Hero’s quick planning. Then April came and went, followed by May and June, typically the beginning of a bustling tourist season in the Victorian-era seaport. Hero’s savings were fast disappearing, as she’d been operating at a loss. Tearful, Hero wrote a letter announcing she planned to shutter for good and started hanging “Thank you for 31 years” signs in the cafe’s windows.
Then, the phone rang. Candice Cotterill, Hero’s personal banker at 1st Security Bank, a community bank with a Port Townsend branch, was on the line. As a longtime customer, Hero enjoyed walking customers’ tips to the bank’s red brick building just a few blocks away, picking up change for the evening and chatting with friends en route.
Hero learned that a government-funded Paycheck Protection Program loan could help keep the doors open. Over Zoom meetings, Cotterill showed Hero and her business partner how to apply for the loans. She maintained constant phone contact as the loan process moved forward, and later, when she filed the application for forgiveness, essentially making the loan “‘free money,” Cotterill was there to guide her through that process as well. The restaurant reopened in early 2021.
“I felt like she had my best interests at heart,” Hero says. “PPP saved us, and we wouldn’t be here without that bank.”
The personal touch
That first-name basis, personal concern and community spirit leads many business owners to community banking. Community banks provide consumer checking and savings, business banking and home loans to customers, but primarily within the local area served, and often, with a more personal touch. Nationwide, about 4,750 community banks offer more than 29,000 branches.
Most community banks have a deep understanding of the unique financial needs in their home territories, resulting in close, long-term customer relationships. Community banks can be as small as a one-building bank or range across up to three states. 1st Security Bank offers 21 retail branch locations across Washington, primarily in small to mid-sized towns.
Community banks have long propelled Hero forward, since starting her restaurant in 1989 at age 24. Five years into the business, her lease renewal was unaffordable. She found potential space in a brick 1898 Elks Club downtown, but it was badly in need of renovation. “I walked into a community bank and explained what I hoped to do. The banker said, ‘You went to school with my daughter, and you’re one of the hardest-working people in this town, and I’m willing to invest in you.’ “
“That started one of the largest renovations to a downtown building to date in Port Townsend,” she says of the process, which retained the building’s character and historic integrity. “It turned out to be much more than we anticipated and is spectacular.”
“I like working with small banks as a small business,” Hero says. “In a small community, we feel invested in keeping local business alive.”
“We get the feeling that 1st Security Bank employees are looking out for everyone else’s best interests,” says Mari Mullen, executive director of the nonprofit Port Townsend Main Street Program. “If you have money in an account that could be earning greater interest in a CD, they’ll let you know.”
Mullen works with a variety of small community banks. She values 1st Security Bank’s convenient brick-and-mortar location, just a block from the office. “Community banks, in general, excel in customer service,” she says.
“We’re a town where we encourage each other to eat in local restaurants, shop at local stores and support our local economy,” Mullen says. “We cross-promote each other, and our organization is all about the local prosperity of our town. Going local is a key message, and we all share a passion for wanting people to be prosperous and thrive here.”
Due to ease and proximity, some bank employees even double as enthusiastic community event volunteers like Wendy Duede, 1st Security Bank’s vice president overseeing the Port Townsend Branch and five others in the Peninsula Market.
In addition to serving on the Port Townsend Main Street Promotion Committee, Duede frequently volunteers at events such as Port Townsend Main Street Program’s “Concerts on the Dock” live music series.
“Even after a long day at work, she worked at the front ticket booth, selling wine and beer tickets and greeting people. And sometimes she brings along other bank employees to help at our events,” Mullen says.
“During holiday events, she’s in the trenches, and that’s how we found out her secret superpower is making bows. For our Girls’ Night Out event, we called Wendy for help with making goodie bags, and she said ‘yes, and let me see who else I can find.’ ” As a result, enough volunteers showed up to create 500 goodie bags.
In addition, 1st Security Bank participates in a winter lights program and assists with other local nonprofits’ events and fundraisers. A giving tree in the bank’s lobby helps families in need over the holidays, and the financial institution donates to the local farmer’s market food subsidy program.
“Port Townsend is a great place because it has people who care about it,” Mullen says. “People want to see everyone succeed.”
At 1st Security Bank of Washington, we take a customized and personal approach to your financial well-being. We live in the communities we serve, so our branches offer tailored solutions to their communities. We believe relationships make the difference, and that sets 1st Security Bank apart.