here or on the ad above to reach
the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development website
Our Primary Pages
Wine & Tourism
To go to Jim Guild's Famous Brands website, click on
the drawing above or here.
Click on the ad below for information about
the Franklin Street Gallery.
Southern Finger Lakes Women, a Chapter of New
York State Women, Inc. (formerly the Watkins Glen Business and Professional
a local chapter of "Women Helping Women."
Its Vision: To be the leading advocate for working
Its Mission: Building Powerful Women, Professionally,
Personally, Politically through advocacy, education, and information.
SFLW meets the third Monday of the month.
For more information contact Gloria Hutchings, Membership Chair, at
607/594-2489 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The chapter's website is www.sflw.org
We also have a Business Card
Page. Click here.
The Odessa branch bank of the Tompkins Trust Company, located on Odessa's Main Street.
A victim of the times ...
By Charlie Haeffner
ODESSA, March 19, 2021 -- The phone call arrived Thursday morning, the day after the news broke about the Odessa bank closing in three months.
The caller was Greg Hartz, president and CEO of Tompkins Trust Company, which owns branch banks in various locales around the region, among them the one in Odessa.
The call, I immediately surmised, was something akin to damage control.
No surprise there. As I said to him, the move had created a storm.
"I know that," he said, "and with good reason. I get it. And I don't disagree with it."
But that was not going to change the closing plan.
The Odessa bank dates back to 1930. That's when it first opened.
It's had four owners over the years, Tompkins Trust Company taking it over in 1996.
It has a rich history, with folks relying on it for lo, those many decades. One fellow said he had been utilizing its services for 70 years, since he was a kid.
I personally have been using it since moving in about a stone's throw from the bank back in 1980.
The bank has been a huge convenience, something dependable in an ever-changing age. And not just to me; to just about anyone in or near the village. I've seen the Dandy Mini Mart workers in there quite often, dealing with their daily take in an easy-access way; and I imagine they're not alone. There are a number of businesses around here, many hidden in homes on side streets.
I have my own personal memories.
I remember when the bank closed off its front door as its access point, and made folks go in a new door at the building's west end, where there exists a lobby with an ATM machine. I'm thinking that move still rankles some folks.
It was change, and that is never easy for folks used to something that has been one way for decades.
Then, when the pandemic came along and the bank wouldn't let anyone in past the ATM lobby, people were upset -- but understood, considering the nature of the thing -- and adjusted to making deposits through an ancient depository slot located near that once-upon-a-time front door.
But now, like a bolt out of the astronomical blue, comes word of the closing, on June 18. The Trust Company told its employees Tuesday night; they posted word in that ATM vestibule on Wednesday, and it soon made its way around the village.
I heard about it from Tom Cook, mayor in these parts a long time ago. He was in the post office, talking to the postmaster, and asked me if I'd heard about the bank. "No," I said ... "What?"
"They're closing June 18th," he said. "Can you believe that?"
I couldn't; and yet I could. I've never really trusted financial institutions. I had a run-in with one -- not Tompkins Trust -- shortly after my wife died back in 2004. We had purchased a van, in her name, and failed to take out insurance on it should she die. Who the hell expects such a thing to happen?
Since I had been working on this website for less than two years, and wasn't showing much income for the effort -- and since she had been the chief bread-winner during that period -- the bank informed me that since they didn't think I could make payments, they were going to take the van from me ... which would have left me without transportation and thus without a means to effectively do my job.
I was informed of this in a meeting at the bank, and did something I didn't think I would ever do -- I used The Odessa File as a cudgel.
I told them my expectations were for income from the website to double that coming year, and increase another 50% the year after. (That was me blowing smoke, but in fact it turned out to be accurate.)
But more to the point, I told them I had 10,000 visitors to this website every week (it's doubled since) and that as soon as I got home, I was going to tell those 10,000 folks through my writing about how the bank was treating a grieving widower in such a heartless way, taking away a key to his future earnings. I suggested that those 10,000 people, thus informed, might inform 20,000 more, and so on.
The woman at the bank with whom I was discussing all of this excused herself to go get a superior, another woman who -- I suppose filled in by the first woman about my threat -- came over and told me she was transferring the loan from my wife's name to mine. Thus, I averted a potentially catastrophic situation. (And, yes, I made payments on time until the vehicle was paid off.)
Like I said, I'm not real fond of financial institutions. It's that bottom-line attitude.
Now, Tom Cook, the long-ago mayor I encountered at the post office is, in one sense, the epitome of change. When he became mayor, it changed what was the expected course of the village. A man named Don Flatt was running unopposed, and so it was safe for him to assume victory, considering the dearth of opposition.
But Tom and his friends ran a late phone campaign on the QT, and on election day Mr. Flatt learned how easy it is to lose around here when you're unopposed.
But the change wrought by that phone campaign was at least change wrought by the populace, by the souls who inhabit Odessa and embrace its small-town quirkiness.
This change, this bank closing, was not the result of any input from the denizens of the village: it was a blindsided smack to the head that nobody saw coming.
It understandably upset the current mayor, Gerry Messmer. He was on the phone right away, trying to find a way to reverse it. And among his contacts was the executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, Judy Cherry.
I talked to her a little later, and she told me she had contacted the CEO of Tompkins Trust -- that would be Greg Hartz, though she didn't mention his name -- and found about what she expected. The move to close the bank "was a business decision," she was told. And it "was not an easy decision," she was further told.
The CEO told her the closing was considered "long and hard," but that in the end the Odessa bank wasn't seeing enough foot traffic. This is the digital age, after all, she was told, and a lot of folks handle their finances on-line.
The bottom line was the bottom line, is what the bank was saying. The Odessa branch just doesn't fit the Tompkins Trust Company business model.
After I ran a story about the closing and invited comments, I received some emails from Odessa bank customers. They follow:
"Without access to local banking services, we would find it necessary to move all banking accounts to a local office. Unfortunately for TCT it could involve a fair amount of business. Unfortunately for us it's a loss of convenience."
--Almon & Patricia McCarty
"This is very upsetting to so many people. One can only hope that another bank will locate here.
"Not only is it an inconvenience that the bank will no longer be in the community but learning of the closing by finding a sign on the door is just plain wrong. The customers that have supported you over the years deserve better and no, I won't be moving my accounts to Trumansburg (a Tompkins Trust institution). I will move them to another bank or credit union.
"My main question now is, what about my safe deposit box? Yes I can close it, but will I be receiving a prorated refund?
"So much for your 'Small town bank.'"
--A long time loyal customer, Rosa Rice
"I have used the Odessa bank for 58 years. It is so convenient for us in the area. Please let it stay."
--Silas E. Ferguson
"I will change banks. I don't want to drive 40 miles to cash a check. I have done banking there for over 45 years. Why close it now?"
"This bank is needed in Odessa!"
"Let's keep our bank open. It's a great bank and wonderful girls. We're all like family.
Please don't close!! It's so convenient for so many, many people."
"This is awful. I am deeply saddened by this news. As Tompkins Trust Company grows, it continues to lose that small town/community feeling and is becoming more and more impersonal. Overall, the level of service has continued to decline.
"The people at the Odessa branch have helped shelter us from the bureaucracy and are always there to help us. They know their customers and go the extra mile for them, in a very friendly and caring way. They are also dog-friendly! The Odessa branch is very convenient for people in the area. Internet banking is not always the answer -- especially as this program changes often ... for the worse, I might add.
"I hope Management will re-consider their decision."
--Shirley Fearn, CPA, CVA, CMA
And then came the phone call from Greg Hartz (pictured at right). I didn't catch his name or title at first, and had to ask him to repeat himself. When he said President and CEO of Tompkins Trust, I said "Oh, my." I don't get calls from that level -- from any business -- very often.
The bank closing "was a really, really hard decision," he said right off the bat, adding that it wasn't one that just suddenly blossomed forth, but rather covered months. "And it's not being taken lightly. But it needed to be done" despite what he recognized as "a significant impact" upon Tompkins Trust's longstanding customers and on the community.
"The driving force," he added, is this: "very significant changes in the industry, including how customers access banking services." In other words, the internet has changed much of the bank business from foot traffic to digital traffic.
"There is no easy way around this," Hartz said, explaining that with the changes in banking access and customer demands, the Trust Company has invested heavily in cyber security and in online services. "If we don't keep up with demand, we won't stay in business. There wouldn't be a Tompkins Trust Company anywhere."
The Odessa branch bank, he added, "is very remote," and thus requires additional security. Beyond that, "there are a lot of considerations to running a branch." He said the building, centrally located in the business district, has been well maintained "and will continue to be until it can be repurposed" -- another way of saying filled with some alternative occupant.
I asked if, in considering its business model, Tompkins Trust had considered that it would be losing customers and their accounts to a bank or banks more closely situated than its Trumansburg branch is.
"Yes," he answered succinctly.
He said that on a personal level, he feels connected to Schuyler County and particularly Odessa since his mother was raised on Rt. 224 outside of town and attended the Odessa High school. "And I still have distant cousins in the Schuyler County area."
But change in the demands of the industry have led to change on the ground, he was saying, and in the face of that "we looked at lots of possibilities." Odessa isn't unique, he explained, since "this has been happening nationwide in a significant way: mergers, consolidations."
In the 37 years in which he has been in the business, he said, the number of chartered banks has shrunk from 18,000 to about 5,500. "New bank charters used to happen every year. But after the great recession of 2008-09, there have been virtually none."
I asked how the Trumansburg branch -- which will remain open and be the one Odessa customers will have to use if they want to stay with Tompkins Trust -- has managed to survive instead of Odessa's.
"Trumansburg is significantly larger," he said. "The number of customers and activity is significantly higher." And it has a drive-through function, something that the Odessa branch lacks. "And after COVID hit," he said, "everything went to drive-through for a while.
"Our team," he went on, "was very challenged to make this decision. We would love to continue to work with our customers."
The fact that many of them are upset is understandable, he reiterated, but the move to close the bank is one in keeping with "the times. It is" -- although "I miss the fabric of the Mom and Pop stores."
So do a lot of people.
But not a business that believes it has to change this way, with these times.
It's a funny thing. When I go to the Odessa bank, there's somebody else there ahead of me almost every time, and someone coming in behind me. Foot traffic doesn't seem all that different to me now than it was 40 years ago -- you know, back when they had a front door.
But maybe that's the point. It's not that Odessa is changing. It is that the bank business is changing, and moving on.
It is a changing world, hastened by the pandemic. As SCOPED's Judy Cherry pointed out, COVID-19 "made all businesses look at how they did business." And in that looking -- and given the rapid advancement of technology -- results like this one are making dinosaurs like our small-town bank just as extinct as the creatures of the same name.
It is easy to bemoan this fate -- this change. But other than removing my funds from its grasp and placing them elsewhere, I don't know how to voice my displeasure with Tompkins Trust, my dismay at what seems at heart to be a disloyalty on its part ... an abandonment. Loyalty, I've always maintained, is a two-way street.
But oddly, I understand where Hartz is coming from, too.
I understand, but that won't stop me from pursuing what for me is practical -- just as what Tompkins Trust is doing seems practical to them.
Short of a miracle -- where, say, the call by the Tompkins financing umpires is reversed, or we get another bank to replace this one (I can see the ad: Have Bank, Will Sell. Vault and all) -- I'll be moving my money to a location more practical than Trumansburg.
Sayonara, Tompkins Trust Company.
Photo in text: Tompkins Trust Company President and CEO Greg Hartz.