In most parts of the country, cities are eager to obtain the Imprimatur of a national brand. Wallace, Idaho, is proud that hardly any major brands are seen on construction marquees. Of the few storefronts that bear a national name, the US Bank on Cedar Street is considered vital. But the bank’s parent company has decided the Wallace branch will close early next year.
US Bank says its business is changing as more people bank online and through mobile apps. The company, which started in Idaho in 1867, wants to move away from a model built around smaller in-person transactions in physical locations. Since 2019, more than 500 U.S. banks across the country have closed. This includes over fifteen in Idaho. And in January, the Wallace branch will join this list.
Dave Copelan of the Wallace Chamber of Commerce says a physical bank is not an anachronism. It is a necessity.
“All the businesses here that do cash business – that includes our grocery store, all the restaurants, the taverns, the microbreweries – they all need the money,” Copelan said. “It’s really important to have a bank here to be able to do these transactions.”
While online and mobile banking allow people to deposit checks remotely, working with cash typically requires in-person service.
“You can’t exactly take a picture of a hundred dollar bill and post it to your account,” Copelan said.
Jeff McLeod owns and operates the grocery store at the east end of downtown Wallace. He says almost a third of the money spent in his store is in cash. And this money must be deposited in person.
“A business like ours absolutely has to physically go to a bank and deal with a teller on a daily basis,” McLeod said.
The impending bank closure leaves him few good choices.
“My options at the moment seem to be either to stay with US Bank and go to Pinehurst, which is a thirty mile round trip, or to change banks,” McLeod said. “Closest probably being Osburn, who is still out of the way.”
In fact, it is the choice faced by all of US Bank’s Wallace customers. If they decide to move their accounts to a new bank, they face a downside as there is no other physical bank in town. And if they stay, they’ll have to take Interstate 90 to the nearest branch in Pinehurst. Corki Mettila says that in winter it’s not a start.
“For example, if I wanted to go to Coeur d’Alene or even Pinehurst and the roads aren’t great, I would just choose to wait another day. And I know I’m not the only one in this case, ”Mettila said.
Mettila and her husband have been clients of the American bank for over 40 years. They have five accounts, covering both personal banking and their small businesses. On festival weekends that draw large crowds of tourists, she says having a bank nearby is essential.
“The store where I have my stuff downtown, I talked to the girl who works there, and she said on a busy summer afternoon, it was nothing for her to have crossing the street to the bank maybe three, four times to get change because it’s so busy, “Mettila said.” So where are businesses supposed to get change if we don’t do not have a bank? ”
McLeod is concerned that people who choose to continue with US Bank will change their buying habits.
“When you have an institution like the American bank going away and people don’t change accounts, it takes our customers out of our city,” McLeod said. “They will go to the bank. What else will they do in this city where they choose to do their banking? Are they going to do their shopping? Will they stop at this post office, will they go to this hardware store? “
Dave Copelan and other city leaders agreed to the US Bank leaving Wallace. He said they were now working for another bank to establish a physical office. And he’s optimistic that will happen; other banks have reached out and are interested. But there is not enough time to open a new bank when the branch of the US bank closes at the end of January.
“It’s not something you do overnight. You have to make sure your I’s are dotted, your T’s are crossed,” Copelan said. “You are dealing with people’s money and theirs. livelihood. And so it’s not just about filling a space and putting a hot body or a hot bank in it. We have to make sure it’s done right. “
Jeff McLeod and Corki Mettila said they were on board. If a new bank moves to town, they will gladly transfer their business.
“I can’t take an extra hour of my day to do banking,” McLeod said. “I don’t want that, and if someone moved in and was a part of this community, I would like to support them as a member of this community and do business with them on a daily basis.”
US Bank declined to be interviewed for this story. In a written statement, the company said it knew the shutdown would disrupt its Wallace customers. He plans to leave an ATM in town. But his decision to close the Cedar Street branch will not be reversed.