Bloomfield protests, to no effect, CIBC’s branch closure
It’s noon in the small, air-conditioned Bloomfield branch of CIBC. The 62-year-old branch only has one teller at the front desk, and she’s busy helping an elderly man.
He’s rough looking, dusty, with a thin shirt, thick, grey beard and well-worn hat. The skin on his arms is deep brown and leathery from years in the sun. Likely in his 70s, this man is clearly still working.
He hands the teller his bank book, the kind many young people have never seen, a passport-like book the bank fills in for him every time he comes in to deposit earnings, pay bills or withdraw cash. It’s possible the machine outside the branch’s inner doors could do all the same work, but it would be a steep learning curve for a man his age.
And for someone in a solitary, life-long profession, it would certainly not have the same personality.
“Let me just process your bill before I hand you your book back,” says the teller. She obviously knows him—it’s likely he’s been coming in at least once a week for years, possibly decades. “How was your weekend?”
The Bloomfield branch of CIBC will close September 20 of this year, and the ATM will remain until the new year. It’s one of a number of branches the bank has decided to close in order to cut costs and focus on electronic banking.
Steve Campbell, owner of the County Magazine publishing and print shop next door says the move will hurt the community.
“One thing they said was machines can do everything that people can,” says Campbell. “And I just exploded. I said, that’s not true… you have no idea what your tellers do to help the customers who come in. Some of these people don’t even know their bank accounts. They couldn’t pay a bill, they couldn’t do a deposit, they couldn’t do a withdrawal if the tellers didn’t tell them what their bank account number was and how much money they had in there.”
He added that it’s not just the elders who rely on the bank who will be hurt. Local businesses will feel the pain too.
“I think it’ll have a devastating effect,” says Campbell. “Because the large volume of people who park in the largest parking lot in town go to the bank machine and then go down to shop and come back is absolutely enormous. I see it every day. It’s hundreds of people.”
Last Thursday, the bank’s communications department invited residents to Bloomfield town hall to discuss the closure. The officials from the bank were present. Two were silent as communications officer Jon Kastikainen spoke to a crowd of about 70 people.
“We knew going in that they were just going to try to explain to us why they were doing what they were doing,” says Campbell. “They were not particularly interested in listening to us that much and they were not at all interested in changing their minds.”
Residents came armed with a petition populated with 440 names—a feat in a village of 500. They also brought letters from municipal and provincial officials and some very good reasons to keep the bank open.
They argued that an aging population in Bloomfield, including some with reduced mobility and others without access to a vehicle, would find it very difficult to have to trek out to downtown Picton to do their banking.
“Someone in the room said, ‘is your sole market between 30 and 40 years of age? Can you not wait until some of us are gone?’” Campbell recalled.
In its history, Bloomfield has had all the amenities its residents needed. There has been a general store, a butcher, a clothing store. Those are all gone now. At the end of the month, the local school will also close its doors.
Local businesses thrive on a booming tourism economy, with restaurants, cafés, the County’s most famous gelato and plenty of shops to buy gifts and souvenirs. Even they rely on the bank. Many businesses are cash-only, and frequently send visitors to the bank machine.
“Really, [the CIBC representatives] were unaware of what makes this area unique, and also unaware of what Picton is like during the summer tourist season,” says Campbell. “There were a lot of good comments, a lot of concern, not so much with the distance between Bloomfield and Picton, but the time consumption in trying to get to Picton, get parked, get to the CIBC at the top of the town hill—the worst possible location, and get back again, which is of particular interest to business people who need coin— they can’t leave their businesses for that long, and the farmers, who are always busy.”
Kastikainen also informed residents that once the bank machine is closed forever, the little white building that houses it will be sold. Campbell’s business has a tenancy with the bank.
In the end, Campbell says the County’s economic development head said it best in a letter to CIBC’s CEO, Victor Dodig.
“Neil Carbone wrote a brilliant letter,” says Campbell. “He said Prince Edward County is booming, people are coming, there’s activity, there’s businesses, there’s new young people coming into the County. [CIBC is] the only corporation to turn [its] back and walk away from that.”