Idaho community

As shutdown nears, Idaho community seeks successor to city’s only bank

In most parts of the country, towns and cities yearn for the imprimatur of a national brand. Wallace, Idaho is proud that hardly any big marks are seen on the building marquees. Of the few storefronts that carry a national name, the US Bank on Cedar Street is considered vital. But the bank’s parent company has decided that 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 small, in-person transactions in physical locations. Since 2019, more than 500 US bank branches across the country have closed. This includes more than fifteen in Idaho. And in January, the Wallace branch will join that list.

Dave Copelan of the Wallace Chamber of Commerce says a physical bank is not an anachronism. It is a necessity.

“All of the businesses here that do cash business — that includes our grocery store, all of the restaurants, the taverns, the microbreweries — they all need cash,” 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 generally requires in-person service.

“You can’t exactly take a picture of a hundred dollar bill and put it in your account,” Copelan said.

Jeff McLeod owns and operates the grocery store east of downtown Wallace. He says nearly a third of the money spent in his store is 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 closure of the bank leaves him with few good choices.

“My options right now seem to be either stick with US Bank and drive to Pinehurst, which is a thirty mile round trip, or switch banks,” McLeod said. “Closest probably being Osburn, who is still on the sidelines.”

In fact, it’s the choice faced by all US Bank Wallace clients. If they decide to transfer their accounts to a new bank, they face an inconvenience 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 in the winter it’s a non-starter.

“For example, if I wanted to go to Coeur d’Alene or even Pinehurst and the roads weren’t good, I would just choose to wait another day. And I know that I am not the only one in this case,” said Mettila.

Mettila and her husband have been US Bank customers for over 40 years. They have five accounts, covering both personal banking and their small businesses. On festival weekends that attract large crowds of tourists, she says having a bank nearby is essential.

“The store where I have my stuff downtown, I spoke to the girl who works there, and she said on a busy summer afternoon, it’s nothing for her to have to walk through the street to go to the bank maybe three, four times to get change because it’s so busy,” Mettila said. “So where are the businesses supposed to get change if we don’t have bank?”

McLeod worries that people who choose to continue with US Bank will change their buying habits.

“When you have an institution like US Bank leaving and people not switching accounts, that drives our customers away from 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? Will they go shopping? Will they stop at that post office, will they go to that hardware store?

Dave Copelan and other city leaders agreed to U.S. Bank leaving Wallace. He said they were now working for another bank to establish a physical office. And he is optimistic that it will happen; other banks have reached out and are interested. But there is not enough time to open a new bank when the US Bank branch 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’re dealing with people’s money and their livelihoods. And so it’s not just about filling a space and putting a hot body or a hot bank in there. We have to make sure everything is done right.”

Jeff McLeod and Corki Mettila said they were on board. If a new bank settles in town, it will gladly change activities.

“I can’t take an extra hour out of my day to do banking,” McLeod said. “I don’t want that, and if someone were to move in and be part of this community, I would want to support them as part 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 be disruptive to its Wallace customers. He plans to leave an ATM in town. But its decision to close the Cedar Street branch will not be reversed.