Wells Fargo to close Lemon Creek branch

Closure will leave area without full-service bank

Wells Fargo is closing its Lemon Creek branch, the only full-service bank in the area, effective Aug. 15.

 

On Wednesday morning, signs announcing the impending closure dotted the building, and brochures highlighting the date were at each teller window.

“I’m bummed out,” said Vance Sanders, a customer who stopped by the bank on his way to Jerry’s Meats and Seafood.

“I like it out here,” he said. “This is just really convenient.”

Wells Fargo announced plans last year to close 450 banks across the country by the end of the year. That represents about 8 percent of the bank’s total branches. Two hundred had already been closed by January, when the company announced plans to close 800 more. The company cited trends toward electronic transactions; financial analysts have pointed to the record-breaking $1 billion fine levied against the company for illegal operations that may have artificially boosted its profitability.

In Alaska, the Lemon Creek branch and one of two branches in Kodiak are the only announced closures. The Kodiak branch closure was reported last week by the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Wells Fargo Regional Manager Patrick Ryland confirmed the Juneau branch’s closure in a phone call with the Empire on Wednesday.

“As part of our normal branch evaluation, the business decision has been made to close the Lemon Creek location on Aug. 15,” he said.

The decision has “many contributing factors,” but some stand out, he said. First, Juneau has two other Wells Fargo branches, and both of those will stay open. The second is that Wells Fargo customers are turning to electronic and cashless transactions more than physical ones.

“For Lemon Creek, any of the cost savings are going to be reinvested in technology,” Ryland said.

Finally, the number of customers at the Lemon Creek branch was relatively low, he said.

The branch has five employees, and the company is “absolutely looking for opportunities to keep them with Wells Fargo,” either at the other two Juneau branches or somewhere else in the company.

As for the building, Ryland said “all options are on the table for that building … including sale.”

Though the branch is closing, Ryland said Wells Fargo is “firmly committed to Southeast and the Juneau market. … By no means whatsoever does the Lemon Creek branch closure signify anything bigger.”

He said he doesn’t see a connection between the branch’s closure and Alaska’s ongoing recession.

Statewide, the number of Alaskans employed in financial services is flat or dropping slightly, according to figures collected by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In 2017, about 12,000 Alaskans had jobs in the sector. (Like most industries, the banking sector is seasonal, with more people employed in summer and fewer in winter. Annual averages are used here.) The 2017 figure is down by 100 jobs from 2016, and by 600 from its peak in 2006.

In Juneau, figures from the Juneau Economic Development Council show the “Information, Financial and Real Estate” sector lost 20 jobs, or about 2.5 percent, between 2015 and 2016, the latest years for which data is available.

The Wells Fargo branch in Lemon Creek was originally built in 1996 to serve National Bank of Alaska. When that bank was acquired by Wells Fargo in 2000, the branch became a Wells Fargo location.

Its closure leaves no full-service banks in Lemon Creek or in a seven-mile stretch between West 10th Street downtown and Fred Meyer. That stretch contains Juneau’s lowest-income census tract.

David Kennedy, a spokesman for Wells Fargo statewide said by email that “the economics of the neighborhood were not a factor whatsoever.”

But the closure leaves no easy bank service for customers like Stephanie Crutcher, who works at Costco in Lemon Creek and rides the bus to work. On Wednesday, she was standing in the sunshine outside the branch, waiting for a ride.

“This is the most convenient for me,” she said. “It’s on the bus line, so it definitely has my gratitude.”

Last year, The Economist, in an analysis of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Data, determined that nine out of 10 Americans live within five miles of a bank, and half live within one mile.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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