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Customers protest PNC Bank's plan to close branch

Thursday - 12/29/2011, 11:38am  ET

LIBERTYTOWN, Md. -- PNC Bank's decision to close its Libertytown branch has upset some local customers who say the small, rural community has been served by a bank since the early 1900s.

With it closing, a number of customers said the bank is choosing profits over service.

A Nov. 18 letter notified customers of the bank's decision to close the branch at 9138 Walnut St., followed by a reminder letter dated Dec. 19.

The branch will close and be folded into the nearby New Market branch at 11717 Old National Pike, PNC said in its Nov. 18 letter.

"You can continue to bank at the Libertytown branch until 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, when it will permanently close. We realize that this change may result in an inconvenience to some customers and we sincerely apologize if it causes you any concern," the letter stated.

Richard Bynum, PNC's executive vice president and greater Washington area market manager, signed the letters to customers. He could not be reached for comment by deadline Wednesday.

A number of PNC customers called The Frederick News-Post on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest. Several callers said they will take their accounts to another bank if PNC proceeds with the closing. Katherine Vansant said she was born and raised in Libertytown and there has always been a bank in that location, beginning with People's Bank of Libertytown, then Farmers & Mechanics, and now PNC. With more businesses in town, two churches and a fire department, the need for a local bank is more pronounced today, Vansant said.

"This is very, very wrong. I would go to another bank in Walkersville first before I go to New Market because New Market is too congested, and that's what a lot of people are saying," Vansant said.

PNC's New Market branch raises worries about safety for Patsy Thompson.

"I don't like the ATM in New Market because you have to get out of your car," Thompson said. "It puts you in a very vulnerable position. It doesn't matter whether you are female or male."

Darwin Campbell said he and his wife are retired, and "as we get older, it's a major inconvenience to have to run all over God's creation do our banking."

Edith Johnson Myers, 82, said she was born across from the bank and her father said that People's Bank of Libertytown survived the Depression when other banks folded.

"He always said do your banking with the local bank," Myers said. "If it should close, a big part of Libertytown history would close with it."

In its letters to customers, PNC said anyone wanting to comment on the proposed branch closing can file comments with a district licensing director in New York City.

"I don't see how someone in New York can decide if we don't need a bank here," said Ann Stevens, who said she belongs to a fifth generation to live in Libertytown. "I can't understand why they think anyone can accept going to New Market."

Stevens said she understands times have changed and many people bank electronically but added, "If this goes through, I'm not dealing with PNC Bank again."

Michael W. Sutphin took PNC up on its offer to submit comments to New York.

"I realize that this small branch bank may not provide a comfortable profit margin for your company, and in fact, it may even operate at a loss due to a lower business volume than most of your other facilities," Sutphin wrote. "While profitability is certainly required for an institution such as yours to remain in business, it is also important to provide service where it is needed even in those few facilities that may not be profitable."

Closing the branch will pose problems for PNC's Libertytown customers who walk to the bank, Marge Henderson said.

"I don't know if they weren't thinking about those of us who don't drive," Henderson said. "I walk to the bank like many other seniors. My children don't live nearby, and I can't take advantage of neighbors (by asking them for rides). I know they're thinking of their expenses, but they're not thinking about us."

The timing of the letter also concerns Vansant.

Sending the notices to customers during the holiday period when people are distracted could be a corporate strategy to implement the change "under the radar screen," Vansant said. "It reminds me of how the Baltimore Colts snuck out of town at midnight and it seems like this is what the bank is trying to do to its customers."

Corporations are less inclined to be concerned with their customers and the closure of the Libertytown branch is an example of that, Sutphin wrote in his letter.

"On behalf of my family and for the benefit of the entire Libertytown community, I strongly urge you to keep our local bank open," he wrote.



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