PNC checking out of Freeport

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

Eighty-one-year-old Freeport resident Elsie Ortz is going to have to change her routine.

For 60 years, Ortz has frequented the bank at the corner of High and Fifth streets in the borough's downtown. But PNC plans to close its branch that resides in the 144-year-old building and move all accounts to its location on Route 356 in Buffalo Township on Feb. 22.

The PNC bank is the only bank in Freeport.

“I've been coming here since I got married in 1952,” Ortz said while leaving the bank Thursday afternoon. “I live at the high-rise (on Riverside Drive) now, so it's convenient.”

Ortz was removing items from her safe deposit box at the bank, which was originally known as the Olde Freeport Bank before Integra bank bought it in the late 1980s.

“I feel a sense of loss, but not as much as some of the other people who live at the high-rise, or in town,” Ortz said. “I can still drive to the bank when it moves up the hill, and my boys live in Cabot so they can help me out.

“I don't know what the other people who live down here and can't drive will do.”

According to the 2010 Census, 1,813 people live in Freeport. About 25 percent of the population is older than 50.

Leonard Valenti, 63, of the Clinton section of South Buffalo Township echoed Ortz's concerns for the town's senior citizens as he exited the bank.

“It's going to be really tough on the elderly people down here,” said Valenti, who has used the bank for more than 30 years. “This was convenient for everyone.”

Amy Vargo, a spokeswoman for PNC Bank, said the company often reevaluates its branch bank system to determine which branches are getting the most use.

“We try to make sure we serve our customers in the most sufficient way possible,” Vargo said. “Customers don't have to do anything; all their accounts will be transferred to the other branch.”

Vargo said PNC will keep an ATM at the Freeport location for at least six months.

“We're going to see how it goes and then evaluate whether to keep it there or not.”

Vargo said she wasn't sure what would happen to the branch's employees.

“We always make an attempt to relocate employees,” she said. “I can't speak as to what is going to happen in each individual situation.”

Lisa Alden, who recently purchased the flower store Heaven Scent Floral & Gifts, which sits just across High Street from the bank, said she worries about how the closing will affect her store. “It's obviously not going to help,” said Alden, who doesn't use the bank for her business but said many of her customers do. “I just feel bad for the older people who live down here.

“It's not like there's a bus that goes up to (Route) 356 or anything,” she said. “It's going to be tough.”

Local leaders react

Council President Don Rehner said council is obviously concerned about the closing.

“We're certainly not happy,” he said. “PNC is going to keep ownership of the building.”

PNC's ownership of the building worries Mary Bowlin, president of the Freeport Renaissance Association. “We don't work all these volunteer hours to let a building sit empty,” she said. “It's a beautiful, historic building.

“If it sits empty for a great period of time, I think that's something we'd have to approach the borough about finding a solution.”

One solution some are hoping for is coaxing another bank to town.

“Having a bank in such a small town is huge,” said Mary Jendrey, president of the Freeport Leechburg Apollo Group. “It really hurts the downtown that we're trying so hard to rebuild.”

Jendrey said her group plans to reach out to borough officials and other Freeport-oriented groups in hopes of opening a line of communication with PNC.

“If PNC won't reconsider, we're going to have to present a united front to try to recruit another bank to town.”

Freeport not alone

Freeport isn't the only Alle-Kiski Valley town to lose its only bank in the recent past.

In 2010, PNC closed its branch in Arnold.

PNC also closed Springdale's last bank in 1998.

In 1999, Brackenridge's only bank, a Southwest branch, was closed.

PNC Bank is the flagship subsidiary of PNC Financial Services Group, which has assets of more than $271 billion, according to a company profile.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media. Freelance writer George Guido contributed to this report.

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