SNOW SHOE Hall’s Market, cradled between Interstate 80 and waves of rolling countryside, has been in this former coal town for four generations.
A year after Troy Hall’s great grandfather, William, founded the market in 1913, the Snow Shoe office of People’s National Bank was built at the corner of Fourth and Olive Streets. For as long as the fourth-generation Hall can remember, his family has done business at the bank just a turn off Sycamore and onto Eighth and East Olive Street.
“There’s always been a bank in Snow Shoe,” he said. “Always.”
Each morning, Hall, who owns the market with his brother Jason, organizes the previous night’s deposits and takes them to the institution’s current iteration, a branch of First National Bank. The drive takes less than five minutes.
But with news that the town’s lone bank is leaving, Hall’s daily commute will include a longer sojourn, one that will require a trip down I-80 and about an hour more out of the day.
“It’s going to be a major inconvenience,” Hall, 48, said. “I have deposits and lottery and money orders and utility bills I accept, and I have to put the money in every day, plus the regular banking.”
In a letter dated Aug. 19, First National Bank notified customers that it is combining its Snow Shoe branch with its location in Bellefonte at 137 N. Allegheny St. The Snow Shoe branch, the letter stated, will close on Nov. 18 and any accounts will be transferred to the Bellefonte location three days later.
For the about 800 residents of Snow Shoe, the departure may be a numbers game. Bellefonte’s population, more than six times the size of Snow Shoe’s, boasts a growing business scene and combined merchant and retail sales of more than $100 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We continually evaluate our branch network to ensure it is optimized and operating efficiently,” Meghan Cole, a media and public relations manager for FNB, said in a statement. “Decisions such as this are based on an established evaluation process, which examines factors including convenience, operating costs, transaction volume and more.
“Our goal is to continue to serve our customers’ needs through alternative channels, including our Bellefonte office and our comprehensive range of online and mobile banking tools.”
The branch’s closing reflects a move away from brick-and-mortar operations in the banking industry. In 2012, more than 2,000 branches closed while about half that amount opened, research firm SNL Financial reported. In 2015, Citigroup announced its branch count had fallen 13 percent, while Bank of America had nixed more than 200 locations.
Online banking, meanwhile, has filled the niche. With customers handling transactions via mobile applications and internet services, fewer workers are needed. A shift toward self-service style banking means lower costs for financial institutions, even if it comes at the expense of some communities who remain used to walking inside a branch and dealing with a teller.
While many business owners and older residents of the town are affected, not all of Snow Shoe’s inhabitants are feeling the pressure. Justin Kobularcik, who is a member of FNB, works at Hall’s as a cashier part time. Like most of his peers, Kobularcik, 17, prefers using his card over cash. A checkbook, meanwhile, is a relative antiquity for him.
“It won’t really affect me too much because I do most of my stuff online,” he said. “I get direct deposit and I use my card a lot, so I never really go to the bank.
“But my grandparents, they go to the bank a lot, so it will be an extra drive for them to go to Bellefonte.”
Jenn Nastase, who oversees the Mountain Top Area Pool Association, said it’s the older population who will be most hurt by the move.
“It’s going to have a huge impact on Snow Shoe and at least on a 25-mile radius,” she said. “I understand a lot of banking is done online now, but those elderly people do not do that.”
The move has some business owners thinking about changing banks. David Tobias, who owns a machining and welding business in town, said his options have expanded now that a longer trip is required.
“They showed loyalty by having a branch there, and now that they don’t,” he said, “it kind of takes my loyalty away from FNB.”
First National Bank offers a range of online and mobile banking tools for its customers, who have access to their accounts at any time — “regardless of location,” Cole said. Customers have the option to make deposits remotely besides pay bills and balance their budgets online.
The FNB ATM, meanwhile, will remain at the Exxon station off I-80, just down the road from Hall’s.
Yet for the businesses that still rely on nickels and dimes — such as a grocery store like Hall’s — the bank’s departure stings.
“All the businesses and clubs up here — they all rely on their change, nickels, dimes, quarters, and I do, too,” Hall said. “And if you just need to get five rolls of quarters or something, what are you going to do?”
Tobias agrees. He has conducted business with FNB for the past nine years.
“It’s just sad to see it go,” he said.
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy