CNB reducing hours at Westport branch

WESTPORT In yet another blow to Westports business community, Champlain National Bank has announced they will reduce operating hours at its Westport branch during the off-season. Bank trims hours due to low winter transaction volume CNB president and CEO Jon J. Cooper said the bank would be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Memorial Day, starting the week of March 17. The bank will then operate full-time on a seasonal basis. There's a significant difference in transactional activity from Nov. 1-June 1. We're not closing the branch, we're just adjusting the branch which is reflective of the transaction activities, said Cooper. Cooper cited the loss of General Composites as one of the main factors for trimming hours. General Composites, Westports largest employer, is in the process of transferring its business to Willsboro. Champlain National Bank, based in Willsboro, operates nine branches in Clinton and Essex counties. The bank is the only one in the town of Westport. The Keene branch currently operates on a part-time basis, Cooper added. Cooper stated the bank officials were open to revisiting the decision, should Westport attract more businesses needing services. The activity will determine if we need to increase the hours - I'm cognizant that the community is trying to develop an industrial park, so if they brought in some new businesses, we would look at it again, said Cooper. The employees working at the Westport branch will not have their hours affected, Cooper stated. Current employees will be shifted to other branches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays where traffic is heavier. Cooper emphatically stated the bank would not close the branch or leave the community. He plans to attend the regular Westport town board meeting March 11 to answer questions. Chamber wants more outreach Westport Chamber of Commerce president George King said he had mixed feelings regarding the announcement. The bank has to make its business decisions based upon its bottom line. The lifeblood of any bank is commercial activity. With basically only four active retail outlets open in the community during the winter, the commercial activity probably could not support maintaining the branch open more than they plan, said King. But, King added, he believed the bank was a quasi-service agency, and as such, it should not yank services away without the courtesy of discussion. Although the bank has every right to set its own hours, it probably would have been more polite for it to let the Westport Chamber know of its plans. We could then have at least forewarned the various businesses in town, said King. King said the active retail outlets during winter would have to plan around the days the bank closed. Residents who have become comfortable in being able to walk to the bank and socialize while conducting their business will be inconvenienced. King was concerned the part-time closure could be a symptom of the bank branchs eventual closure. With the advent of competition for CNB in Elizabethtown and probably in other locations that they have a presence, the pressure on their bottom line will increase. If this happens, we expect it is fully possible that this will spell the end for the Westport branch, said King, referring to Ticonderoga Federal Credit Unions planned branch opening in Elizabethtown later this year. CNB is currently the only bank within Elizabethtown. Westport chamber members hope to make an appointment with the bank president to discuss what has happened. We realize that we probably will not be able to change the bank's mind about this, but we would like to impress upon them the facts that we feel there is a need for a branch in Westport, that we feel there is a need for dialogue with town representatives when major changes are being made, that we as a chamber need to understand the bank's reasons for making major changes, and finally we need to understand what we can possibly do to help maintain a branch in the town, said King. Town officials concerned for businesses Westport supervisor Daniel Connell echoed Kings concerns. There's a lot of people who believe this is the first step in the bank closing, said Westport supervisor Daniel Connell. He lauded Cooper for offering to come to the town board meeting to discuss the situation, stating it was a positive sign. Connell, though, was concerned about the challenge the banks part-time hours represented. We're struggling in Westport with a lack of businesses, and there's a real concern among our constituents about what kind of message this sends to potential businesses about coming into town, said Connell. If the bank closed during tax season, it would create a major hardship for the town government, he added. Connell said town officials were planning to host a town-wide meeting in April. The meeting would invite citizens to come in to discuss the direction Westport was heading as a community, and attempt to create strategies to get more year-round residents into the town. We've decided as a town board to get some sort of concerted effort to see if we can't some consensus, said Connell.

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