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Newton Centre sure has a lot of banks

Signs pointing to all the banks in Newton Centre
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Money follows money. The Garden City has a lot of it.

If state regulators didn't make it compulsory for banks to be located in certain areas, some areas would have even less credit and banking service than they do now.

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Almost every place I go has far too many, often to the detriment of more useful commerce.

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When I lived in New York, there were absolutely areas without enough bank branches--there might be one ATM-only lobby and one actual branch with staff for a heavily-populated low-income neighborhood, plus a few check-cashing stores. The check-cashing places were often owned by the big banks, but if you wanted to open an account, and not pay a percentage to cash your paycheck, you had to take time and perhaps pay a bus or subway fare to travel to a richer neighborhood or downtown where there are a lot more businesses.

This--like the presence of only bodegas ("convenience stores" around here) that charged more for inferior produce--is one of the many ways it's expensive to be poor.

That doesn't make the areas that seem to have almost nothing but bank branches and drugstores (which also double as convenience stores) more appealing. (I realize online shopping is at least part of what's going on here, and there are retail spaces that have had "for rent" signs up for months or years. (I have no idea what's going on with Arlington.))

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I have no problem with them but it amazes me how many new bank branches are opening in the computer / ATM age. I go to the bank maybe once a month and I have a decent cash flow but it's all computerized. I realize to take out a mortgage or maybe open a new account you may have to go inside but it seems like new branches are being built once a month, not sure what I'm missing.

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In my town, whenever I go to either of the Bank of America "banking centers," there are ALWAYS people waiting in line to see the human teller or to talk to one of the staff. I live in a "middle income" community.

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Such an outdated term. When I go to _my_ banking center for help with my accounts, I'm served by a "relationship manager."

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At my credit union we have "shares"

corporate banking is so 1998.

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I don't get the people who want to use a person for routine transactions. I appreciate being able to do things at a kiosk or online rather than dealing with a person whenever possible. It's faster and you know it's doing exactly what you're asking.

I go to post offices with the kiosk, and I'll be doing one of the few things it can't do, so I'll stand in the line, there's no one using the kiosk, and there are 12 people in front of me doing transactions the kiosk can do. But they want to wait in line instead? Same at the bank; there will be no line at the block of ATMs, and a bunch of people standing in line to do balance inquiries and cash withdrawals and things. And things they could have done on their landline or device/computer rather than going to a bank. Why?

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I go to the teller to withdraw cash because I want 5s, 10s and 1s....the ATM just spits out 20s.

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Their JP branch has an ATM that lets you get ones.

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Problem solved.

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but when I do, I prefer to use a human teller and get a paper receipt. I just feel better about the transaction than if I put it into an ATM.

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They have ATMs and I use one a lot at the local branch for deposits and withdrawals. I have never had a problem. If you feel insecure about a deposit (I'm assuming a check) just take a picture of it with your phone.

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...Where the fish are.

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There was an effort underway to try to expand the Newton formula business bylaw to this part of town to try to address this. I wonder if these signs are part of that...

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As if someone wanted to make it clear: Yes, there are enough banks.

Banks should use the rental car model where all the various banks share the same building.

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This actually happens, or at least used to. The beautiful Art Deco bank building a block east of Davis Square used to contain both Winter Hill Bank and Somerset Savings Bank, and a sign etched into what's now the building's VFW post informs me that it also used to house Highland Trust Company.

A building in Central Square, Cambridge, used to be split between BayBank and Cambridgeport Savings (both defunct now).

In New Bedford's historic district, you can see a building that contained two side-by-side banks, one for the merchant class, the other for fishermen and other workinngmen.

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I wonder why a modern developer hasn't tried this. It seems like the sort of thing where you could attractively advertise all the same services (security,communications, etc.) to banking branches. Do branches value walk in space that much?

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I suspect the vast majority of in-bank traffic is for commercial accounts. I go into the branch with our Girl Scout accounts because I don't feel like feeding $2000 in cash through the ATM. Commercial accounts deal with a lot of cash transactions, both deposits and getting change in the configurations you need for the day. A busy location for a Girl Scout cookie booth would need about $200 in small bills to make change. Retail businesses have similar needs.

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Some years ago I sat next to a bak president on a flight and took the opportunity to ask why, in the age of online banking, do so many banks want to open empty branches in our towns & village centers. Her answer was a statement of the obvious. She said that banks don't make their money with transactions (many are shuffled to Asia and Indonesia).

They want to do mortgage lending and money management in affluent communities where the mortgage default rate is near zero. People still like convenience and will go into a branch to apply for a mortgage.

So where does that leave us in places like Newton where our villages are overrun with bank branches and whenever a shop cannot afford the rent and must leave, the landlord courts banks, who will often pay double what anyone else will pay. Remember Capitol One in Newton Centre? It rented for 10 years and never bothered to open up.

Can we do anything about it? We (the City) cannot tell property owners to whom they may or may not rent. However, there are some things that other communities have done that have greatly improved the situation. It all depends on the Municipality's willingness to act, or not.

Right after my conversation on the plane, I looked into who had done what and found some interesting things. I am sure even more things have been done as this was 10 years or so ago. One Newton-like community required all new banks and certain other non-retail (financial services, real estate offices, dental & medical, etc) .to go into anywhere but first floor retail, as first floor retail is what makes or breaks the walkability and pedestrian friendliness of a village.

Basement or second floor OK. First floor only by special permit, which had to show a need for the business on the first floor. Banks howled at first, then decided after a while they actually liked it, as the retail businesses brought more foot traffic to them than they could themselves attract, and they were allowed 400sf of first floor space for their ATM, which was all they needed.

Also, there had to be 150 ft of sidewalk separation between banks. Look at what we have now on, for example, Beacon Street between Centre and Langley Rd.

I brought this before the Newton Economic Development Commission and the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce and the idea was not acceptable and they . would not support it as restraining trade and unfairly targeting certain types of businesses.

Maybe today we are more open to some such ideas, which I would be happy to re-introduce if there is a more accepting atmosphere today. I am interested in hearing if the climate has changed.

Vicki Danberg
Councilor at Large, Ward 6
Newton Centre & Newton Highlands

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Can we do anything about it? We (the City) cannot tell property owners to whom they may or may not rent.

Of course you can. I don't see any strip joints in town. Probably wouldn't allow a tire factory right downtown either. Communities limit the number of stores that sell tobacco by putting a ceiling on the number of licenses.

If Newton [or any community] wanted to limit the number of retail banks in a particular business district or more generally, you could. But you don't want to pick a fight with the folks with money.

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That's an interesting perspective about the mortgages. As a homeowning millennial, we got our mortgage through a broker, working mostly through email, and going to their (second floor) office only to sign all the final closing paperwork. The handful of our group who own did similar things. Heck, I don't think anyone I know's done anything different for even a car loan. I certainly don't know anyone who just walked into a bank to apply for a loan - how do you know you're getting the best rate? How can you easily compare terms between institutions? Is this a common thing to do among older folks or is my experience just an outlier?

Sort of hoping this is a generational thing and banks start seeing a major turnaround in usage of floor space. 9-5 banks sucking up valuable street space and putting upward pressure on rents is a blight, not a commodity.

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Banks set up these branches because otherwise we would start to see a lot more vacant storefront space.

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A similar sign could be erected in Harvard Square, obviously. In some places, they'd have a sign for all the nail salons.

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