Monday, October 15, 2007

Bank On It

Cue music.

Begin voice-over by that Movie Trailer Voice-Over Guy:

They're coming. You thought they were limited to suburban sprawl and strip mall stand-alones, but they're not. They've evolved, adapting to thrive in the revitalized urban neighborhoods, consuming blocks at a time with sterile storefronts of glass, proclaiming "The End of Fees", "Totally Free Checking", and "Interest Bearing Checking Accounts". They're coming - you can bank on it.

The continuing economic improvements in our neighborhoods have prompted a proliferation of bank branches in our city, and not everyone is happy about it.

So what's coming to Tenleytown in Northwest Washington and angering neighbors?

Not a liquor store or a nightclub, the usual sources of any community's agita, but a veritable pillar of the economy, one that is commandeering storefronts across the city: a bank branch.

Not unlike the seven branches already open within a half-mile of the Outer Circle theater's former site on Wisconsin Avenue.

Banks are some of our best neighbors, and have supported the neighborhood (particularly the LCCA!) in a myriad of ways. And a bank is certainly better than empty or abandoned storefronts. And who are we to tell a company where they can or cannot open businesses to maximize their profits?

But still, I find myself agreeing with the concerns of the people in article. Really - how many banks do we need in a particular area? Do we need multiple branches of the same bank within blocks of one another? I would imagine that the squeaky-clean, almost scrubbed-and-disinfected, look and feel that might be caused by too many banks in one strip could do as much to ruin a neighborhood commercial district as anything else.

I think the problem is that banks aren't really interactive in the same way as other businesses. You can't window-shop at a bank. You can't just duck inside to try on that fancy suede jacket in the window. You can't wander the block, perusing the menus, until the Chocolate Fudge Death Cake convinces you to grab a table for dessert. It takes intention to go to a bank. You've got to be prepared - ready for a discussion about seriously non-fun things like Accounts and Interest and Fees. If you're not really prepared to talk about things like that, you just ignore it and walk on by.

So while it's great to have them around and easily accessible, especially when you need them, it seems to me that too many banks in a tight area can easily make the neighborhood unapproachable.

What do you think? Would a restriction, like that proposed in Chicago, limiting banks to a radius of 600 feet from one another be a good idea? Something else? Or are we just naively complaining about a good thing?


Rich said...

There must be some sort of restriction. When the PNC moved into the corner of 14th and P I was very disappointed. It's not just any commercial space, it's a prime corner and now it's completely dead after 7pm. It's massive and extends too far taking up way too much storefront. Most people who live in the neighborhood are not walking around during the day when the bank is open. When everyone is home from work and out for a stroll it's a locked up, waste of a business.

Rich said...

btw there's a new Au Bon Pain that just opened on 13th between L and Mass. It's great for all the residents on 13th south of Logan Circle in all of the new condo buildings. It opens at 6am on weekdays and 7am on weekends.