The sign is posted on the door and despite a petition asking to keep it open, Wells Fargo Bank’s Howard Avenue branch in downtown Biloxi will close in a few weeks.
Biloxi’s Main branch officially will close and the ATM will be removed at noon on Oct. 20, the company said.
The bank lobby has been locked for many weeks, and spokeswoman Roshana Gossoff told the Sun Herald it’s because of staffing constraints related to COVID-19.
The difficulty in hiring staff since the coronavirus — coupled with customers doing less banking in person and more on computers and smartphones — are among the reasons Hancock Whitney Bank will close six locations in South Mississippi at the end of the day on Oct. 8.
It’s the trend in the banking industry.
A report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition shows that 13,000 bank branches closed across the U.S. between 2008 and 2020 — or 14% of all branches.
What it means for Biloxi
The building at 854 Howard Ave. is across the street from historic Saenger Theatre, which is being restored. It’s about a block from the Biloxi Shuckers’ MGM Park and the boarding platform for when Amtrak returns to South Mississippi, possibly in January.
It’s also adjacent to The District, a mixed use development coming with retail and restaurants downstairs and apartments on the top floors. Actor Morgan Freeman’s second Ground Zero Blues Club will be opening in The District.
The developers of The District are restoring buildings that were downtown landmarks during Howard Avenue’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.
“The building at the Biloxi Main branch location is currently owned by Wells Fargo and will be sold,” Gossoff said, opening it to new development.
Another Wells Fargo branch in West Biloxi at Pass Road and Eisenhower Drive remains open.
Customer petitions bank to stay
Sam Clark, a Biloxi resident, got notice in the mail that her branch of Wells Fargo would be closing.
Her reaction was to post an online petition — and more than 50 people joined her in asking Wells Fargo to reconsider closing their bank.
“I’m trying everything I can,” she said. “If we are to keep this open, we’ve got to do this.”
Clark said he’s banked with Wells Fargo for about 10 years, half of that time at the downtown Biloxi branch.
“This is not just a bank to me. Every time I go, I expect to see Vita, Laurie, and the other tellers’ smiling faces greeting me,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like I am just a customer to them. They see a lot of people every day, but they still know me by name.”
She could switch her account to one of several other banks in the downtown, but says she has a connection to this branch.
She chooses not to drive, which means she now has a 75-minute round-trip bus ride to do her banking with Wells Fargo.
Other Wells Fargo branches not as accessible by public transportation are on Bienville Boulevard in Ocean Springs and on Courthouse Road in Gulfport.
Wells Fargo has operated the branch in downtown Biloxi for nearly 30 years, and Clark said she doesn’t find the same friendly service at the west Biloxi Wells Fargo as she enjoyed downtown.
Changing times and staff
The downsizing of physical banks is an adjustment more customers and employees are making as the industry changes.
“Employees can apply for other positions within the company for which they are qualified,” Gossoff said, and Wells Fargo will offer severance and career assistance.
Wells Fargo evaluates its network of branches based on customer trends, market factors and economic changes, she said.
The company has 4,900 retail bank branches across the country as of June. While branches continue to be important, the company said, customers have more ways than ever to bank and are increasingly using online banking or the Wells Fargo mobile app can deposit checks and other transactions they do in-person at the branches.