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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Winthrop businesses to be hurt by closure of Key Bank

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WINTHROP - A Winthrop businesswoman has a petition in her store for customers to voice their opposition to Key Bank’s plan to close its Winthrop branch on May 10.

Key Bank announced the closing of the Winthrop branch, 645 state Route 11C, in a letter dated Feb. 8 and sent to its Winthrop branch account holders in the past week. Banks are required to give 90 days notice before closing a branch.

Bank officials said accounts currently held by the Winthrop branch would be transferred to its Massena branch. “Your accounts will be transferred immediately. To ensure a seamless change, we will transfer your accounts. There is nothing you need to do. We will handle all the details,” the letter noted.

But the move has small business owners in a community that has had a bank in its downtown corridor for decades concerned.

“If they close the bank, it’ll be inconvenient, costly. It takes a couple gallons of gas to drive to (the Key Bank in) Potsdam and time-consuming,” according to Cindy Elliott Niles, co-owner of Elliott’s Farm and Home Supply, where the petition is posted.

She is the third generation of her family to be involved in the business, which was a parking lot away from the initial Winthrop bank and is now just across the street from the bank building opened in 1970 that now houses Key’s Winthrop branch.

Ms. Niles has grown accustomed to walking across the street to Key Bank on a daily basis to deposit cash and exchange change. With the nearest bank now an 11-mile drive to Massena or a 13-mile trip to Potsdam, Ms. Niles will have to switch to a new schedule for depositing revenue and exchanging change, which could be problematic for security and keeping the store staffed throughout the day.

Michael K. Goodman, owner of the Hammill Funeral Home, has banked with Key Bank for 30 years and is concerned the drive to Massena for his banking needs will create additional operating costs that he will have to pass on to his customers.

“It’s going to be a big change. We’d go over five days a week,” Mr. Goodman said. “If we had customers who needed paperwork done, they’d help with that.”

Mr. Goodman pointed out a lot can be done through electronic banking these days. However, some older residents still prefer the convenience of face-to-face interaction and after May 10 will have to drive to either Massena or Potsdam to deal with a banker in person.

“Lots of elderly people who’ve stayed with Key Bank like to go directly inside. They like to stick with real bankers,” Ms. Niles said.

Town residents say Key Bank has always been a welcoming, community-oriented bank.

“It was always a friendly bank. The employees were quite attentive to all of our needs. You don’t see that in cities,” Mr. Goodman said.

Ms. Niles says she and the four full-time employees of Key Bank know one another on a first-name basis, and she’s afraid they might lose their jobs. She pointed out that custodians, plowmen and people who tend the grounds may be out of the job. “It affects a lot of folks,” she said. “I hate to see good people lose their jobs.”

Therese J. Myers, a spokeswoman for Key Bank, said the closure of the bank will not cause its employees to be laid off.

“We’re focused on minimizing employee impact and looking to transfer those employees to our Massena branch,” Ms. Myers said. (The closure) has nothing to do with employees. Those are great employees, and this is in no way a reflection on them.”

Ms. Myers said Key Bank is planning “across the board” closures and consolidations of bank locations all over the country.

“Like any other business, Key continually reviews the structure of its organization to maintain a strong position in the marketplace, to meet the specific needs of our clients and to meet our business needs,” she said. “This decision is purely a business decision based on customer traffic and branch density.”

Mr. Goodman is afraid the loss of Key Bank and other local businesses may be a sign the hamlet’s economy could be fading away.

“I feel bad for the area. You see the community going away,” he said.

Kathleen Slifka, vice president and area retail leader, said in the letter to Winthrop branch account holders that they could send comments regarding the proposed closure to the Comptroller of the Currency, Bank Supervision - Operations, 250 E. Street SW, Washington, D.C., 20219. “The Comptroller of the Currency does not have the authority to approve or prevent this branch closure,” she pointed out.

KeyCorp announced in July it planned to close up to 5 percent of its 1,062 branchesby the end of 2013 in an effort to cut costs. The bank announced plans to close its Dannemora branch in September 2012 last summer.

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