MERIDEN — Wells Fargo confirmed the bank is closing its downtown branch at 43 E. Main St. on Nov.3.
“The decision to close a branch is not an easy one,” said Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Friedlander in an e-mail. “We continue to evaluate our branch network and base our distribution strategy on customer trends, market factors and economic changes.”
The banking industry in general has experienced a shift in more consumers banking online, eliminating the need for many in-person services. Wells Fargo has given customers “more ways than ever to bank and digital usage continues to increase,” Friedlander said.
Wells Fargo customers can continue to use the 43 E. Main St. branch until it closes. Wells Fargo also has locations at 55 Centennial Ave., 820 E. Main St. and at 86 N. Main St. in Wallingford. All branch offices provide the same services.
The downtown branch has eight employees.
Wells Fargo is leaving the downtown at a time when city officials are working to fill vacant buildings and storefronts. It also leaves downtown residents with no banking within walking distance in the Transit-Oriented Development district. A TD Bank at the corner of State and East Main Street was demolished in 2014 to make way for the Meriden Green development.
Bank of America, the former Castle Bank now ION Bank, TD Bank, Webster Bank and Liberty Bank have branches on East and West Main Streets.
City Councilor Michael Rohde, a member of the council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee, said the bank closure reflects changes in the overall industry.
Rohde doubts the absence of a bank in the downtown area will impact tech-savvy tenants of the new residential housing units in Meriden Commons I and II, and 11 Crown St. But older residents in nearby Hanover and Harbor Towers could be adversely affected.
“Part of it, is there isn’t a lot of traffic,” Rohde said. “It’s just a fact of life. People are hunkered down, using their computers and iPhone for banking. But the elder population are still old school and prefer to do banking face to face.”
Rohde expects a boost in economic activity downtown after the pandemic and said the Wells Fargo building site would be prime for a commercial business, possibly a credit union.
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest agreed with Rohde that online banking partially led to the decision to close the branch.
Wells Fargo officials had to ask themselves what is the customer base, and does it warrant three branches? Feest said. He intends to visit the branch Friday with Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Rosanne Ford to determine the customer base, and whether or not the service operations on the upper floors will also close.
“Are they closing other functions,” Feest said. “We have to remember people are working remotely. That affects a lot of decisions.”
Feest also hopes to ask about the local usage of the downtown bank and its ATM machine. He recalled another bank was interested in a downtown kiosk but the idea was put on hold because of the pandemic. Another bank was looking at a downtown location several years ago, he said.
“The pandemic stopped a lot of expansion,” Feest said.
Thomas Welsh, president of the Meriden Economic Development Corp. said officials were hopeful new downtown housing would have been sufficient to justify a bank maintaining a branch downtown.
“It is truly unfortunate that Wells Fargo Bank will be closing that branch, which is the last remaining bank branch within walking distance downtown,” Welsh stated in an e-mail. “That said, however, Meriden is served with a large number of bank branches (including by Wells Fargo Bank) and has an excellent bus and transportation system.There should be sufficient banks available within a mile or two of downtown, so no one will be denied banking services, but now may have to take a bus or jump in their car to get there.
Welsh agreed with Feest that once the economic downturn caused by the pandemic is over, additional banking services, including bank kiosks will be in demand and will become available in the future.