By Waringa Kamau

The days of walking to the bank during lunch hour are almost over for current SunTrust customers in downtown Lexington. SunTrust Bank on South Main Street is set to close May 2.

The news of the closing comes as a letdown to many customers who have accounts with the city branch.

Marquita Dunn, a longtime resident of Lexington, said she is very disappointed that the branch is closing.

“I hate to see them go,” she said. “I’ve been with them for close to 11 years now.”

In an email last week, corporate spokesman Hugh Suhr confirmed the branch would be closing and the bank plans to sell the building. Suhr said the opening and closing of branches has become a natural part of business and stressed that SunTrust’s other area branch, located 2 miles from downtown at Hunter Hill on North Route 11, will remain open.

Dunn works at Washington and Lee’s dining services. She said she makes quick trips to the bank at least three times a week to use the ATM.

The ATM at the city branch will also be closed, leaving SunTrust customers with only one ATM at the Hunter Hill branch. Their other option would be to use other banks’ ATMs and incur a fee.

“It’s going to be an inconvenience to have to drive out there,” she said.

Dunn said she might move her business to CornerStone Bank, directly across the street from the closing branch.

The closing of SunTrust will leave a prominent building at the corner of two major streets empty. But merchants with shops close to SunTrust are not concerned that the closing will have an impact on their businesses.

“I really don’t think this will affect me in any way,” Mary Jo Morman said. “People who are coming to the bank are coming to do just that, bank.”

Morman owns Celtic Tides, a gift shop on West Nelson Street just a few steps from SunTrust.

Morman said the 10-minute parking spaces around the bank don’t allow bank customers enough time to shop. It gives them just enough time to quickly do a transaction and move on with the rest of their day, she said.

Marlene Hope, a clerk at McCorkle’s Hallmark Cards and Gifts, is also confident that the store’s business will be unaffected.

“I think that a lot of the affected customers will probably transfer to either Wells Fargo or CornerStone,” Hope said. “This means they’ll still be visiting downtown and our store is within walking distance of both banks.”

Mayor Mimi Elrod said she didn’t receive the news of SunTrust’s closing as a surprise.

Since CornerStone bank opened its headquarters across the street from SunTrust in April 2011, its local deposits have grown by nearly 50 percent and SunTrust’s have dropped 18 percent, according to reports from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

“The city cannot support three banks downtown,” Elrod said. “I think competition is good but to have three banks right on that corner, it just looked like SunTrust wasn’t getting enough business.”

She said the closing will “definitely hurt the city because we will be losing the revenue we would have received from them in form of taxes.”

All banks pay a finance tax to the state. Local governments get a certain percentage back based on how many banks they have in the area and those banks’ assets.

Two other Lexington businesses have either moved or started the moving process. L’Orient Styling Salon on West Washington Street has already moved to 30 Crossing Lane. Castello on South Main Street is in the process of moving to a location in Buchanan. Owners of both businesses said the need for more space is the reason for moving.

Elrod said the city is doing its best to accommodate businesses. She said the Chamber of Commerce is working with local business owners to encourage a healthier downtown economy by supporting efforts of the Main Street Lexington group. Formed in 2013, the group of volunteers and local merchants focuses on the economic revitalization of downtown by hosting events throughout the year that promote local businesses.

Past coverage:
SunTrust Bank closing its downtown Lexington branch

Downtown CornerStone Bank gets ready to open Monday

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