We joke about the city being taken over by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, but banks might be the more pernicious forces making over our city. They are the most uninteresting of uses of real estate, all light and glass and carpet, signifying nothing. They offer nothing that creates any sense of joy or fun or community; at least at Starbucks you can get legal stimulants and wifi, and Dunkin can serve up a hangover breakfast in a fix. A bank taking over a spot on a busy street is a 2,000-square foot Excel spreadsheet glaring down at the sidewalk, with its signs and posters offering the same services they do in all of America (and, it should be noted, on their own websites). They take over places like Mars Bar and anchor giant new buildings, filling precious city streetscape space with dead-eyed finance.
This week comes the news via DNAinfo that Angry Wade’s, a stalwart of the famous Smith Street bar scene that’s served up sports viewing and free popcorn for at least 12 years, is about to be replaced with a bank, after the landlord increased the rent by 60 percent. So there goes a chunk of something interesting on the street, replaced by something that isn’t even open after 5. We can’t figure out why the hell New York City needs so many banks. So we ask you: When was the last time you actually walked into a bank, and why? Tell us in the comments because we’re genuinely curious.
As for me, I have not walked into a physical bank since probably 2008, when it took me awhile to find the Bank of America ATMs in Brooklyn that I could deposit some freelance checks in. But then I found those ATMs and moved all my checks to direct deposit. Then I quit Bank of America and switched to the significantly less evil USAA, which doesn’t even have physical locations in NYC, so that wasn’t a problem.
Banks don’t occupy vast, towering buildings of architectural importance like they once did (the Trader Joe’s building in Cobble Hill used to be a huge bank), the kinds of big building that anchored downtowns and made you feel like your money was safe at a time in history when you couldn’t just summon your money out of a machine at any bodega. Now they look like strip mall send offs, stamped and pressed out of a mold. And because they’re national chains with lots of money (specifically, your money) they can pay exorbitant rents landlords demand and never go anywhere. Money is basically conceptual at this point, so why do we need so many physical storefronts that symbolize it?
TD Bank’s regional president Chris Giamo tried to answer the “why does NYC need so many banks?” question to Gothamist two years ago, explaining why the company operated 126 branches in the city at the time.
“Regardless of what way a consumer uses its bank, it still will visit a bank branch,” Giamo said, adding that TD offers “a full array of products for a full relationship.” A full relationship with… It. (To be clear, you’re It.)
A full relationship does not sound like something we need with a bank. We need full relationships with other businesses that get provide something that makes the neighborhood diverse, not just a place to count your loose change. The concept of landlords who seem to have no sense of civic pride or emotional investment in their neighborhoods and seek out only the highest bidder is fascinating, but that’s fodder for another post.
And yes, we know there are people out there who don’t have smartphones with check-depositing apps, need loans for mortgages and might have complex legal transactions to make. But we’re asking you to tell us: when was the last time you were in a bank, and why?
Some responses so far:
@timdonnelly Every few months I stop in to change my ATM password or to reinstate my card when they turn it off due to suspected fraud.
— Nancy Groves ??? (@Nancy_Groves) January 13, 2016
@timdonnelly 2013, I think
— Jason Crane (@JasonDCrane) January 13, 2016
@timdonnelly I had already moved to PA, but I had to cancel my card due to ID theft, and I could only get the new one in person
— Jason Crane (@JasonDCrane) January 13, 2016
@timdonnelly I haven't walked inside a bank in like 2 years. I have walked into Wade's more times than that.
— Noah Hurowitz (@NoahHurowitz) January 12, 2016
@timdonnelly September, only to exchange dollars for Euro for an overseas trip.
— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) January 13, 2016
— John Clem (@JohnRClem) January 13, 2016
@timdonnelly last fall I went to speak to a human to see if my intuition re: the best way to replace a lost card was on. Also I like humans.
— ErinLuhks (@ErinLuhks) January 13, 2016