Community activists mourn loss of key bank

Replacement sought to help shopping center

February 11, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Judith Berger and other community activists along Liberty Road have spent years fighting illegal pawn shops and convenience stores that attract drug dealers between Interstate 695 and the city line near their Baltimore County homes.

But recent news of the closing of their neighborhood bank -- an anchor for more than 30 years -- was the latest insult.

"It's just another slap in the face," said Berger, who has lived in Lochearn for 33 years and is past president of the Lochearn Improvement Association.

Officials from the Bank of America told community leaders Tuesday that their branch at the 6900 block of Liberty Road in the Woodmoor Shopping Center will close April 14.

"Business has been declining at a fairly rapid rate," Dave Millman, a senior vice president of Bank of America, said earlier this week.

The news has sparked protests from Berger and from leaders in Woodmoor, Villa Nova and other nearby neighborhoods between the Beltway and the city line.

They argue the bank has been understaffed for years, prompting long lines and customers who ultimately went elsewhere.

Berger said she remembers Woodmoor shopping center 30 years ago, with its "vibrant" businesses included a five-and-dime store, a dry cleaners and a Silbers Bakery.

In contrast, she said, a pawnshop moved in a few years ago, although the community ousted it because of a zoning violation.

During a meeting Tuesday at the bank, community leaders failed to persuade bank officials to keep the branch open.

Millman said he told leaders there are three other Bank of America branches nearby. He said the bank also sent a total of 50 notices to area banks that might want to buy the property.

County officials at the Department of Economic Development and the Liberty Road Business Association are also eager to get a new bank at the location.

Fronda Cohen, director of marketing and communication for the economic development department, said her agency will "get the word out to let people know this is a viable market."

Henry M. Weisenberg, executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association, said the bank's closing is a blow to small businesses and to residents.

Calling that section of Liberty Road "a diamond in the rough," Weisenberg said he will work with county government to help any prospective buyer obtain government loans for physical improvements to the property.

"You need a bank in there that's not as large and has objectives that are focused on the local area. We want to have business accounts in the bank. We want to be able to borrow money there. A local bank is going to be more in touch with the local businesses," said Weisenberg.

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