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Longboat Key Friday, Sep. 13, 2019 2 years ago

Despite grassroots efforts, Longboat Key's Fidelity bank closes

Ameris/Fidelity withheld details regarding the impetus for closing.
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

“Fidelity Bank’s Longboat Key Branch wil be permanently closed on September 13, 2019 at 2:00 p.m.,” a sign on the door read. “All accounts will be transferred to our Mount Vernon Branch, located at: 9819 Cortez Rd. West Bradenton, FL 34210.”

Despite pressure in the form of a petition and numerous emails from Longboat Key business owners and advocates, the town’s brick-and-mortar Fidelity bank closed Friday afternoon.

The bank operated four years and closed partly because of a merger between Fidelity and Ameris Bank.

“We carefully considered our decision to close this branch,” Director of Corporate Communications for Ameris Bank Ann-Stanton Cannarella wrote in an email. “The lease expired and due to our recent merger announcement, we decided to close this branch and consolidate it into our Mt. Vernon location.”

When asked to further explain the decision,  Stanton-Cannarella wrote: “I am unable to share specific details regarding the thoughts and analysis that went into making the decision to close this branch.”

Posted on the door of Fidelity bank.

While bank employees abstained from speaking on the record, a couple customers and one former employee who stopped by in the bank’s final hour said they were sad its tenure was ending.

Vicki Mann worked in this location before it became Fidelity. She lives in Bradenton, and she’d come to say goodbye to past co-workers.

“It’s terrible for the community,” Mann said. “They all love this bank.”

Urs Wunderli, who owns RUM International rowing, said he’s dealt with three or four banks where Fidelity was, and that he has two business and two personal accounts at Fidelity. He was sad about its closing, and said he’d become friends with Branch Manager Brad Marner, who is transitioning to be the branch manager at the Mt. Vernon location.

Attorney Maury Azerad said his company has been using this Fidelity bank for three years, and even though his office isn’t too close, he came and stayed because the relationship was special.

The conclusion of Fidelity on Longboat did not happen without some consternation. Michael Garey, proprietor of the Lazy Lobster, started a petition to keep the bank running that ultimately gained approximately 600 signatures.

Garey said the closing of Fidelity would inconvenience Longboaters, “but that’s not the biggest thing. I’m convinced it’s a bad business move on their part and it’s going to cost them money.”

Then, Garey mentioned a quote that was in the Fidelity/Ameris merger literature, which, he said in light of the decision to shut down, seemed hypocritical: “Our customers remain our number one priority and we are making every effort to minimize any impact they feel.”

Several of the stores in Centre Shops of Longboat and other locations on the island kept the petition on-hand for customers to sign. Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren and Irina LaRose of Design 2000 had the same issue Garey and others had: a lack of communication from corporate. There was a 90-day notice, but Loefgren, LaRose and Garey hoped for some sort of response to repeated email and social media correspondence with Fidelity/Ameris.

“Nobody can reach anybody to have a conversation,” LaRose said. “I know Gail at the chamber has tried numerous times and had no return.”

“I have emailed their CEO, three or four times and have not had any response at all,” Loefgren said. “They wouldn't even send out a letter that would say, ‘Thank you for the information. We appreciate this, but we made a decision to move the bank to Mount Vernon.’ Just to acknowledge that they’ve heard from us.”

“Our customers remain our number one priority and we are making every effort to minimize any impact they feel.” – From Fidelity/Ameris merger literature

One minute after locking up at 2 p.m. Friday, sheets of rain descended on a portion of Longboat Key, especially on the Centre Shops. The community bank was gone.

LaRose described why the loss is a large one.

“We're a small community, and we really are the prime example of people and relationships,” LaRose said. “That's really what Fidelity has been, a relationship bank for so many businesses and residents. They’re part of the community. They're supportive of community life as far as events and sponsorships. We’re losing a member of our community, which is vital.”

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Sten Spinella is a Town Hall Reporter for the Longboat Observer. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and his master's degree from the University of Missouri. 

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