West Virginia Law Causes Branch Boomlet in Several Hamlets

Article excerpt

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. -- The little neighboring towns of Craigsville and Cottle in rural Nicholas County, with a combined population of approximately 4,000, went from no banks to four this year as a result of West Virginia's new branch banking law.

It has some West Virginia bankers skeptical.

"I personally cannot see how Craigsville can support four banks," said Paul Hess, president of the New River Bank in Oak Hill. His is not one of the Nicholas County banks, but it is one of many in the state that finally see the chance to expand.

The West Virginia legislature, after years of refusing to permit unit banking finally loosened up, and in three years it has twice liberalized its banking laws. The Mountain State was one of the last to change.

While Mr. Hess may be one of those bankers who is cautious about what is happening in West Virginia, others are not. for example, an officer of Summersville's Farmers & Merchants Bank says his institution was just waiting for the legal changes so that the bank could branch.

"We wanted to put an independent bank in Craigsville seven years ago, but the other banks in the area blocked us," said Farmers & Merchants executive vice president Larry Tucker, who also is a state legislator.

"June 7 was the first day branch banking was permitted within county lines," he explained, "and we opened in Craigsville. We've built a $400,000 facility. We're there to stay."

On the same day that Farmers & Merchants opened in Craigsville, Cherry River National Bank of Richwood also opened a branch there. Then Peoples Bank of Richwood followed in July and Nicolas County Bank of Summersville in October.

The others came to protect their own, to keep their Craigsville customers, Mr. …