By Dianna Smith


The Wachovia Bank near Briny Breezes is closing and consolidating with a nearby branch, leaving longtime customers with one less bank on the island.


The bank is scheduled to close on Sept. 21.


Branch Manager Ray Lanzi would only say that the closing was a business decision and he would not comment further.


Attorney Erik Joh was the first tenant in the bank building, which opened on April Fool’s Day in 1981. He said his office will remain on the second floor of the building after the bank closes.


He has fond memories of the bank, Joh said, because the employees have always been courteous and thoughtful and they’ve made their customers feel at home.


“There was a familiar face and there was a very friendly, ‘Hello Mr. Smith, nice to see you,’ ” Joh said. “That’s how the bank started when they opened in 1981. This branch has always been an extremely friendly branch.”


Though the Wachovia Bank is moving just across the Woolbright bridge on South Federal Highway, Joh said he expects many of the customers to switch to another bank on
the island.


“Their world shrinks to some extent and many of the folks don’t like getting off A1A,” he said of the bank’s longtime customers on the island. “I would not be surprised if two-thirds of the existing customer base switched.”


Wachovia became part of Wells Fargo nearly two years ago and they are still in the process of combining both companies.


According to Reuters news agency, Wells Fargo is now rehiring former Wachovia staff to fulfill positions in the investment banking business. Some analysts believe this means the bank sees a better chance of expanding via investment banking than through its traditional consumer banking business.


Joh said that he was under the impression that the branch on the island has always been profitable, but in today’s economy, many of these banks are consolidating.


However, those who make the decisions don’t live in the area and don’t realize that many of the older customers don’t like to leave their own slice of paradise.


“I think the bank is going to suffer for it,” he said.



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