Led by BVA, Alternatives Sought for Banking in Morris Area
By TERESA WINCHESTER
In October 2023, Community Bank NA announced the January 19 closing of yet another of its branches—this one in Morris. A hue and cry immediately went up throughout the area. The closing affects not only the Village of Morris but a wider geographical swath which includes the towns of New Lisbon, Morris, and Butternuts, the Village of Gilbertsville, and the hamlet of Garrettsville. Calls were made, e-mails and letters were sent, and petitions were signed, to no avail.
The Butternut Valley Alliance, a local non-profit organization the mission of which is to encourage the Butternut Creek watershed to become a better place to live, work, and play, quickly organized a counter offensive, calling a public meeting on November 20 to identify the greatest concerns to the community. From that meeting, a volunteer working group, “Save Our Bank,” was established and began immediately exploring possibilities for maintaining some form of banking in Morris. Its criteria were:
- Matching interest rates and other account benefits for Community Bank account holders who might transfer their accounts to a new provider;
- A night depository or some ability to safely hold daily cash transactions for businesses;
- An ATM or no-charge cash access, check depositing and cashing capability for residents;
- Access to cash for businesses (making change, filling tills);
- Ability of towns and villages to make large deposits (cash and checks) within 24 hours of receipt;
- Affiliation with a nearby brick-and-mortar facility for other banking needs, such as financial guidance to residents and businesses.
A request for proposals was developed and sent to three area banks and four credit unions. Acknowledging the challenges in simply opening a new branch, the working group expressed a willingness to explore a variety of solutions, including different services offered by a combination of providers.
While the credit unions expressed initial interest, they have not remained engaged. Two banks, however, have continued to work with BVA to develop solutions, according to Maggie Brenner, BVA co-chair.
While Norwich Bank and Trust does not feel opening a branch is viable, it has committed to enhancing the existing ATM on Broad Street in Morris (between the ice cream shop and laundromat), Brenner said.
Scott White, president of The Bank of Cooperstown, has participated in discussions with the working group to identify opportunities for Morris. Solutions being explored include expanding operations to open a branch in Morris or providing mobile banking services.
The working group is also exploring ways to ensure the viability of the historic bank building. The edifice was built around 1830 and used variously as a general store, a hat store, shoe store, harness shop, and post office before Moore’s Banking House began occupancy in 1856. Community Bank has communicated its intention to sell the building and is not forbidding occupancy by another bank, as was initially rumored. If it is not feasible to continue branch banking in the building through another institution, the working group is looking at alternative uses and potential buyers who would keep the building in operation and respect its historic character.
“An important resource in our valley is the historic quality of our main streets. People value that about our small villages and want our historic buildings to continue to contribute to the vitality of our community,” said Morris resident Stacia Norman, who is a trustee of the Morris Historical Society.
On January 29, the BVA working group held a public meeting at the Gatehouse Coffee Shop to apprise the community of developments. Approximately 20 people attended.
“We had really hoped that we would at least have a solution to announce when the bank was shuttered so that residents could make plans,” Brenner said at the meeting, “but what we are learning is that there are no quick, simple answers. A bank charter for a new branch can take up to six months. And first we have to engage a new bank.”
Brenner also said that community interest remains high and those in attendance at the meeting seemed reassured about the approach the working group has taken and the progress made.
“I was very encouraged to see all that the committee had accomplished. It was heartening to see the community coming together to figure out what individuals, businesses, and municipalities in the Butternut Valley need and then to investigate possible solutions to meet those needs. One of our valley’s greatest resources is the community. Ironic that Community Bank doesn’t recognize that,” said Norman.
“It’s so nice to see such a dedicated organization doing the research and the leg work for this community. I know there isn’t a quick and easy fix, but we really appreciate the updates the BVA provides us and the continued work they are doing for this effort,” said Chris Riffle, Butternuts resident and co-owner of Morris’ Gatehouse Coffee Shop.