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Frank Gray

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The PNC Bank branch on Calhoun Street near Rudisill Boulevard has told its customers the branch will close next month.

South side goes to bat on bank exit

The Southside Business Group doesn’t get its name in the news that much anymore.

In a way, that’s a good thing.

Ten years ago, the group, made up of business owners and operators, was a lonely voice crying for help as business on the south side crumbled.

There was an attempt to boost spirits by introducing the slogan “Proud to Shop South” or something like that. It didn’t work.

Groceries were closing, restaurants were closing, and the old Southtown Mall, which 15 years before was new and packed with shoppers, was a derelict hulk, mostly deserted and literally falling down.

Fortunately, the group’s pleas for help didn’t fall on deaf ears. The city declared Southtown blighted, bought the property and tore it down, and convinced new businesses to come in. It seemed to boost the entire area.

Today there are new businesses, and though it’s not Rodeo Drive, the blight is mostly gone.

But bad news is bound to crop up now and then, and a few weeks ago, bad news arrived. The PNC Bank branch on Calhoun Street near Rudisill Boulevard told its customers the branch would be closing next month.

The bank explained that people are banking online and using ATMs more and don’t rely on bank branches as much. Accounts would be transferred to the downtown office.

Some customers expressed dismay and urged fellow customers who use that branch to speak up and tell bank officials how disappointed they are.

The Southside Business Group has gotten its share of calls about the closure, but not from businesses. Individuals who use the bank branch are the ones who have been calling, said the group’s president, John Dortch.

Dortch himself is a little surprised.

“Any time I’ve stopped, there there’s always been a line,” he said. “It’s been a very busy bank.”

The Southside Business Group will hold a board meeting this afternoon, and the branch closing will be on the agenda, Dortch said.

The closing of the branch might be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as a disaster. The downtown branch is only two miles away. There is another across from Southtown Centre, about three miles away. There’s also one about three miles away on Bluffton Road.

There are plenty of other banks nearby, including one practically across the street, another at Southgate Plaza and one at Quimby Village on Bluffton Road, so it’s not as though the area is neglected by the banking industry.

There is, perhaps, a good reason for that. Dortch cited a study released a few years ago that said that particular section of the city was actually the second wealthiest – per square mile. It helps that homes in that area are built on smaller lots, so there are a whole lot more houses per square mile.

But can the Southside Business Group make a difference? Do they have the clout to get PNC to change its mind?

Well, Dortch said, he likes to think they have enough clout that PNC will at least think about it.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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