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11/1/2009
Bank of America to open its first Delaware retail branches in Brandywine Hundred & Greenville; Councilman Weiner works with community leaders to integrate new branches - News Journal

Bank of America to expand retail presence
BY ERIC RUTH • THE NEWS JOURNAL • NOVEMBER 1, 2009

Bank of America is certainly a big part of Delaware. It just hasn't been a very visible one.

That's slowly beginning to change.

After years of being known locally mostly for its downtown Wilmington credit card headquarters, the North Carolina-based giant has begun the anticipated expansion of its retail centers in the state, which currently has just two of the 6,000-odd Bank of America branches nationwide.

The first is set to open in spring 2010 on the southeast corner of Concord Pike (U.S. 202) and Naamans Road in Brandywine Hundred, next to the Tally Ho Shopping Center, the bank said Friday. New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner said the bank also has plans to redevelop an existing gas station site at 3816 Kennett Pike, near Powder Mill Square.

The bank already has a small branch office across the street at 3801 Kennett Pike and another in the lobby of the downtown headquarters building of its Global Card Services division.

At 4,600 square feet, the 202/Naamans Road branch will be the bank's "flagship" retail center, according to Duffield Associates, a Pike Creek-based firm handling the design engineering for both projects.

The piano store now at the site is being razed, but the adjoining shopping center along Naamans Road will remain, Duffield said. The branch will have three drive-through lanes and include environmentally friendly design and construction features.

"It's a great opportunity for us to fill in our network coverage between Wilmington and Media, Pa.," said Bank of America spokesman T.J. Crawford. The bank said in May that it was aiming to establish a greater retail presence for the brand in this state, tapping executive Tim Huval to head up the effort.

Weiner said the Greenville branch is envisioned as a 3,000-square-foot facility with drive-through service. Homsey Architects of Wilmington will be designing the building.

The expansion comes as banks large and small find increasing value in retail operations amid a struggling economy. Recent earnings reports show that banks that can rely on a stream of income from retail customers have been able to mitigate damage. Retail operations often generate the deposits that are used to make loans, and also provide a source of customers for banks' other businesses, such as investment services and credit cards.

At PNC Bank, third-quarter earnings showed retail-banking profit rising to $50 million from $36 million. Citigroup is in the process of trying to sell businesses outside what it considers core operations, including retail banking.

Locally, Delaware banks have been reporting a steady uptick in customer deposits as the recession encourages saving.

"Deposits have been doing really well," said Rebecca DePorte, senior vice president of personal financial services at Wilmington Trust. "Consumers are really nervous about what's going on with their investments. ... They feel like putting it in a safe place for now."

WSFS Bank has been especially aggressive with retail expansion, opening three new branches in Sussex County this year. Another is planned for Limestone Road near Hockessin in New Castle County.

"The deposits have been significant for all banks' progress across the country, but especially in Delaware," said Richard M. Wright, executive vice president of retail banking and marketing at WSFS. "People are not quite comfortable yet going back into the market, and they're putting a lot of money into banks."

At the same time, retail loan demand has been relatively flat in this economy, while mortgage refinancing is still getting a solid boost from low interest rates.

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