Farmers and Merchants Bank moves into Freeport
A new Farmers & Merchants Bank opened in Freeport on Monday to much fanfare as the town leaders and residents fretted that they would be out of a bank forever.
“This is beautiful,” said Rodney Chapman, 91, of Freeport. “I'm sure it's going to be a success, as they will be the only bank in town.
“You want to walk to the bank, not drive out to the country,” he said.
The last bank at 236 Fifth St. was PNC, which closed in February. All accounts for the Freeport branch were consolidated and moved to the PNC on Route 356 in Buffalo Township.
The interior marbled walls and vault are the constant in what has been a number of bank owners in the 145-year old building.
When borough council found out that PNC was leaving, they quickly searched for another bank.
“We were very concerned,” said Don Rehner, 65, president of Freeport Council. “We wanted a bank in town. We always had a bank.”
Mayor James Swartz Jr., 60, remembers getting a free Hopalong Cassidy plastic bank in the late 1950s there when he was a kid.
“We used to be able to support two banks,” Swartz said. “Now, I hope that we can support one.”
Rehner approached Farmers & Merchants Bank, whose niche is small-town banking.
“We were born in Kittanning, so this is the kind of town that we serve,” said Richard Krauland, president and CEO of the Farmers & Merchants Bank, still headquartered in Kittanning. The new Freeport branch is its ninth location in Armstrong County.
Krauland describes his bank as a consumer bank that caters to serving local businesses with mortgages, consumer loans and wealth management, he said. “There's a lot of good business in a town like this,” he said.
One local business owner complained that not having a bank in town hurt his business.
“Then we had to go out of town to get change,” said George Wolfe, owners of Wolfie's Pizza just down the street. “We had to go the country to go to a bank — when years ago people from the country used to come here to go to the bank.”
Wolfe was referring to the banks in Buffalo Township and surrounding communities in the Route 356 corridor, which has been drawing new residents and developments in the last decade.
“I felt bad for the senior citizens because a lot of them don't drive,” Wolfe said. “How were they going to get to the bank?”
The small towns like Freeport need banks to help them not only stay alive, but also redevelop, according to local leaders.
“A town has its churches, fire departments and its banks,” said Robert Bower, an Armstrong County commissioner who attended Monday's ceremony.
Tom Klingensmith of Gilpin, owner of Freeport Foods, a small market, deli and restaurant in town, was the first customer in the door Monday.
According to Klingensmith, when he opened his store 11 years ago, Farmers gave him a business loan when the big banks wouldn't.
Freeport Foods is the only small market left in town and even offers breakfast at $4.49 for two eggs, bacon, home fries and toast.
“Big” doesn't work for Klingensmith: Most anything large, either a bank or a big box store, hasn't helped his business.
“Things are looking up now,” he said. “We have new businesses in town.”
But not everyone sees the improvement, including one of his customers.
“Small towns, they're disintegrating,” said Jim Gundlach, 67, of Buffalo Township, who regularly meets friends at Freeport Foods for breakfast.
But one of his friends, Sally Weidenhoff, 66, of Tarentum, countered: “We like to come here. It's just a happy place. It's cozy.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kiski River search finds kayak but no kayaker
- Tarentum teen to be tried as an adult in New Year’s shooting
- Apollo-Ridge students connect world, science
- Police: Man riding bike in New Kensington strikes truck, dies
- New Kensington shooting victim’s condition improves
- Break-ins reported in Oakmont
- Man uninjured after leap from Hulton Bridge
- 24 teachers put on New Kensington-Arnold School District furlough list
- ‘Defective component’ shuts down part of new ATI Harrison mill
- Penn Hills teenager charged in New Kensington shooting
- Pyrotechnics to be used in TV filming in New Kensington