Iconic bank building marketed by Webster
Since the early 19th century, banks were positioned in prime locations -- the centers of commerce along some of heaviest-trafficked thoroughfares in nearly every community.
As the banking industry and demographics have changed, those halcyon days of many of financial centers have passed.
One of the most prominent examples locally would be the historic bank building at 19-23 Main Street, along the Village Green in New Milford.
Some impressive structures have been razed, making room for modern glass and steel office buildings, but others have survived -- some still as banks, though in most instances their names bear no resemblance to their original identities.
Though currency might still be exchanged inside the four walls, the days when staff handled patrons' deposits or decided on loan applications have been replaced by the sound of wait staff taking orders, patients consulting with their doctors or a customer making a purchase.
The options are many for two former banking centers offred for sale now by Waterbury-based Webster Bank.
The more than century-old bank building at the corner of Main and Bank streets in downtown and the more contemporary former Webster office at 291 Danbury Road (Route 7 South).
For many decades, the edifice was home to the now long-defunct New Milford Savings Bank.
Represented by Jones Lang LaSalle, the bank put them on the market Feb. 1.
"The reason to sell is this is part of our long-term optimization plan," said spokeswoman Sarah Barr. "Customer banking habits are changing, so we need less space. Customers are banking more on line, on their mobile devices and using ATMs."
"However, we do want to be in highly visible places," she added, "to never lose that human interaction and to work with customers to do everything from open accounts to more complex transactions."
Webster opened a 3,400-square-foot banking center in February at 169 Danbury Road (Route 7 South) in New Milford and is renovating its banking center at 53 Main St. in New Milford.
The longtime bank building on Main Street is iconc in its stature as a centerpiece of the village center.
Built in 1903 after a fire had razed much of New Milford's business district, the building is listed at $1.3 million.
The two-story masonry building, with its arched entrance, was acquired in 2006 when Webster took over NewMil Bank. It closed its operations in January.
The building is an iconic structure in a prime location at Main and Bank streets in the village center zone, said Mayor Pat Murphy, who said she has reminded the bank of its architectural importance and the need to maintain the property.
The property at 291 Danbury Road (Route 7) also is well situated and prime for buyer, Murphy said.
"It's at the corner of Still River Drive and Route 7," she said. "It's a great location with a light. It's a good spot for a drive-by business."
Modern bank branch locations along busy thoroughfares often attract restaurateurs, retailers or medical offices, said Garett Palmer, a broker with Danbury-based Goodfellow Ashmore.
"Usually, bank pads are on a corner lot at a signalized intersection and have good visibility. It's most likely the best parcel on that corridor," he said.
Michael Gold, president of the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce, is hoping the bank finds a buyer soon for both locations, concerned long-term vacancies can lead to blighted buildings and impact nearby properties.
"When you see an empty building, you wonder what's going in next. We want a vibrant downtown around the Green. It's going to take someone with deep pockets to improve the building (19-23 Main)," he said. "Parking is at a premium there."
Because of the changing needs of the banking industry, it seems unlikely the downtown building will house another bank, as there has been a decline of branches across the region.
"The bottom line is that, while the number of banks have held steady at around 30 institutions, the number of branches rose from around 328 in 2004, peaked at 416 in 2010 and has recently declined to 399 as of 2013," said John Carusone, president of the Bank Analysis Center in East Hartford. "Clearly, also some of the bank merger and acquisition activity has also been a factor in the reduction in branch numbers as banks seek to eliminate duplicative facilities post merger."
Banks are paying strict attention to redundancies when they conduct audits, he said, adding that earnings are of utmost importance to investors.
"The frequency of branch use is decreasing because of popularity of electronic banking. Banks are much more judicious about the size and scale and placement of brick and mortar facilities," Carusone said. "Remaining branches are designed to be enhanced facilities offering insurance and investment advice -- not just transactional facilities."