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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 31, 2019 2 years ago

Longboat Key residents out to fight bank closing

Letter asks customers to drive to next-nearest branch, in Cortez, after Sept. 13.
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

Longboat Key’s branch of Fidelity Bank is set to close Sept. 13,  according to a letter sent to customers on June 13. But residents aren’t prepared to lose the bank without a battle.

Michael Garey, proprietor of the Lazy Lobster, which is nearby Fidelity in the Centre Shops of Longboat, started what he said has become a popular petition to keep the in-town branch running.

Michael Garey sparked efforts to keep Longboat's Fidelity branch functioning.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support,” Garey said. “That bank is loved out here. The whole rest of the plaza is saddened that they’re not going to be here. A large segment of the town is sad they’re going to be leaving.”

The letter to customers did not explain why the branch was closing.

“On September 13, 2019, Fidelity Bank’s Longboat Key Branch located at 5390 Gulf of Mexico Dr. Suite 101…will close,” the letter reads. “All accounts served at the Longboat Key Branch will be transferred to our Mt. Vernon Branch at 9819 Cortez Road West, Bradenton…All of the services you currently use at this location may be accessed at any Fidelity Bank branch location.”

Director of Corporate Communications for Ameris Bank, which recently merged with Fidelity, Ann-Stanton Cannarella, explained why the branch is closing in an email to the Longboat Observer.

"We carefully considered our decision to close this branch," Cannarella wrote. "The lease expired and due to our recent merger announcement, we decided to close this branch and consolidate it into our Mt. Vernon location."

Garey and Longboat Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren don’t think Fidelity or Ameris considered the length of the drive from Longboat to Bradenton. The trip from the current branch to the Bradenton branch is 15 minutes one way, and longer in season.

“They've determined, I think, that people will go to the Cortez branch,” Loefgren said. “I think that won't happen. Especially in season. I don’t think they really considered the seasonality of our island. These people are not going to spend an hour and a half or two hours in a car to go to that bank.”

Cannarella outlined "several alternative banking solutions: our Mt. Vernon branch and other branches in the Bradenton/Sarasota area, online banking, mobile banking, telephone banking through our Customer Service Center, cash management and remote deposit capture for our commercial customers."  

As for whether Ameris/Fidelity would reverse course faced with public outcry, Cannarella simply wrote, "A lot of thought, analysis, and consideration took place in making the decision to close this branch."

In addition to the petition, Garey will send a letter to H. Palmer Proctor, Ameris Bank’s president and CEO, urging him not to shut down the branch. Loefgren is also sending a letter out on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

Both Loefgren and Garey emphasized the good relationship between Fidelity and its customers in Longboat. They bemoaned the impact of its closing and the loss of its employees (all of whom elected not to comment on the matter).  

“Those four people in that bank make it a pleasure to go to there,” Garey said. “They are terrific. They’re very supportive and participate in all of the town’s events. They’re the definition of what a community bank used to be and should be.”

“They’re a real community bank,” Loefgren said. “People go in there and actually have coffee and cookies even if they have no money to put in the bank. It’s really beloved.”

Gail Loefgren (left) said Longboat's Fidelity branch has been an important partner with the Chamber of Commerce.

Cannarella wrote that Longboat's Fidelity branch manager, Brad Marner, is transitioning to be the branch manager at the Mt. Vernon location, and all of the current Longboat team members are being retained.

People can sign the petition at the Chamber of Commerce, Blue Dolphin Cafe, David Gregory Salon, Wagner Realty, the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club and Design 2000.

As for whether Ameris/Fidelity would reverse course faced with public outcry, Cannarella simply wrote, "A lot of thought, analysis, and consideration took place in making the decision to close this branch."

Residents have about six weeks before Longboat’s Fidelity branch is no more. But as Loefgren said, when the people of Longboat think something’s important, “We get behind it.”

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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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