Editorial: Greenfield Savings Bank renovation a smart move

  • The Shelburne Falls Office of the Greenfield Savings Bank after its grand re-opening celebrating its new facade. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Friday, May 19, 2017

If you wanted a concrete example of how successful institutions are responsive to their communities, the new Greenfield Savings Bank facade in Shelburne Falls is one.

A 2014 restoration of the Bridge Street branch finished the facade in a white stucco like fake brick, which was totally out of character with the largely brick architecture around it.

Local wags came to refer to it as the “taco bank” because the motif reminded them of a fast food Mexican restaurant more than 19th century mercantile architecture of a quaint New England village.

When John Howland became Greenfield Savings Bank’s president in March 2015, one of the first complaints he got was criticism of the Shelburne Falls bank’s look.

“As I looked around, I saw that this building would look great in some places — but not here,” he said.

It was both refreshing and surprising when we learned the bank’s new president had taken the critique and comments to heart and felt it was important that the bank address them. Two years after the architectural blunder, Greenfield Savings rebuilt the storefront to ensure the bank fit into its community visually. This degree of sensitivity to customer and community concerns can feed success, and is never a bad investment.

Architect Joseph Mattei of Shelburne designed the new structure’s look. The building is red brick with a gray trim on the rooftop that has a fluted molding reminiscent of that on the older, more historic building across Bridge Street.

Whit Sanford of the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association has thanked Howland for making the $250,000 investment in the village, which relies on its charm and visual character to attract tourism, a major driver of the local economy.

“All the buildings in this town have substance,” she said. “Making this the ‘Taco Bell’ bank not only diminished the bank but also the community — because it’s on a corner that is very visible.”

Greenfield Savings has grown in recent years, at the expense of larger national banks, because it has kept a close eye on the needs and expectations of its customers and its neighbors — even as it has expanded through the region over the years, to neighboring Turners Falls, Shelburne Falls, South Deerfield and Conway, and also in more recent times to Northampton and Amherst.

Many of Franklin County’s people are dedicated locavores in many ways, including in their banking preferences, and the local banks and credit unions have reaped the benefits of that movement. But they’ve also earned the loyalty of the county’s residents by providing personal, helpful service in an age of institutions that grow ever larger, more removed and more impersonal and unhelpful.

At the same time, they have modernized their services to satisfy modern financial needs of the area’s residents and businesses. Sometimes that comes from direct customer service, sometimes it’s by supporting local clubs, sports teams and local events. And sometimes it’s by listening to what their customers and neighbors say about how a building does or doesn’t fit in downtown.

In the case of Shelburne Falls, we hope this sensitivity will pay off for both the bank and the village it serves.