By ETHAN STARK-MILLER
Memories are still vivid for some of the closure earlier this year of a branch of Chase Bank in Knolls Crescent – a move that has sparked strong protests from neighbors, many of whom are elderly and depend on physical institutions instead of using the Internet. or a smartphone.
Those efforts failed, but it looks like there was a much happier ending to Van Cortlandt Village after Ridgewood Savings Bank announced that it had rolled back a previous decision that it would close next month and instead renewed its Sedgwick Avenue lease.
Neighbors of Knolls Crescent argued they needed to open their branch because it was the only financial institution serving the geographically isolated area. Those who lived near the Jerome Park Reservoir shared similar sentiments, saying their nearest banks would be as far away as Broadway or even Norwood.
It seemed like history was doomed to repeat itself for Van Cortlandt Village. But being part of a smaller regional bank chain – not the massive $ 1 billion JPMorgan Chase conglomerate – had significant benefits for Ridgewood, opening the door for groups like Community Board 8, the Van Cortlandt. Jewish Center across the street, and even Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz to find the resources that would keep the bank going.
“It went on all summer,” said Nick Fazio, chairman of CB8’s economic development committee. “That’s all I did, so I can’t tell you how relieved I am that we had this.” It was a long process. We got a lot of help from a lot of people. And yes, we have kept the branch open.
Keeping it open meant finding financial help from the state. The New York Banking Development District program, according to the department’s website, is designed to encourage the establishment of bank branches in areas where there is a “demonstrated need for banking services.”
Banks that join the program are eligible for government grants and other benefits designed to persuade financial institutions to open – and stay – in under-banked areas.
When announcing its closure last May, the Queens-based chain said it was centralizing that branch and another in Norwood to a single new location on East 204th Street. Ridgewood’s market share in the village of Van Cortlandt was so small, Fazio said, that bank executives believed its customers would simply walk about a mile across the reservoir to Norwood.
These executives were wrong, Fazio added. The community certainly did not agree with this plan.
Shortly after Ridgewood announced the closure, Fazio said, CB8 sent a few of its members who live in the area – Julia Gomez, Ed Green and Sergio Villaverde – to go door-to-door and find out what was the feeling of their neighbors.
“And the response was, ‘We really need you to try to keep the bank open,'” Fazio said.
Additionally, the unofficial CB8 survey team found that the area had a large elderly population based on some census data.
“The qualitative and quantitative data told us this was going to be really difficult for the community to maintain,” Fazio said. “It was going to be really hurtful and harmful for the community, for the residents.”
Domenico Ciacco – Ridgewood’s community reinvestment officer – admits he has also received a lot of negative feedback from local organizations about how closing the branch would be detrimental to the community, citing its geographic isolation from Norwood and d ‘other banks.
“There aren’t a lot of banks out there,” Ciacco said. “And especially for small businesses that do cash deposits, it would have been very difficult for them to continue their day-to-day banking without having Ridgewood Savings Bank where we are. Fortunately, I work for a community bank that allows me to voice community concerns and really try to brainstorm ideas to keep the financial institution or ATMs available for the community.
Two more Ridgewood branches elsewhere are in areas designated by the Bank Development Districts, Ciacco said, so this program could help other neighborhoods as well.
But the application process is not easy, Fazio said. So he and Ciacco have spent the last few months coordinating with the office of the Borough President, the Bronx Overall Development Corp. and others to help bring together the many documents.
“There was a ton of information they wanted in this app,” Fazio said. “All kinds of demographic information, quantitative data. Part we had, but it wasn’t necessarily configured the way we wanted (financial services). So we have relied on many of our community partners for help. “
The state’s Department of Financial Services has yet to formally approve Ridgewood’s request, Ciacco said, but it appears they are leaning heavily in his favor. What about all this negative feedback? Ciacco says it’s turned positive since Ridgewood announced Sedgwick Bank was staying open.
This experience was very different from Knolls Crescent Chase Bank, Fazio said, because Ridgewood actually seems to care about the communities they serve. Along with this theme, Ridgewood made it clear that he wanted to continue his outreach activities and be more active in the neighborhood.
“We are more than happy to partner with them because they have been so great throughout this process,” said Fazio. “I really hope the community will support them for their efforts, which was a different experience than what we’ve had in the past with bank closures.”