Baker Boyer to shutter Weston branch

The move later this year will leave the town without a bank.

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WESTON -- Baker Boyer Bank will close its Weston branch later this year in a cost-cutting move that will leave the community of less than 1,000 residents without a bank.

Baker Boyer President and Chief Executive Officer Megan Clubb announced Thursday the branch will close at noon Oct. 29 after 24 years in the Northeastern Oregon town.

She said rising operating costs combined with the rough climate for banks prompted the decision.

"This is a unique situation because not only is the branch small in terms of the number of customers, but we are facing significant capital investment to upgrade the branch," Clubb said this morning.

"When we looked at that additional capital investment we just couldn't find a way that it could work."

The branch has been operating in a single-wide trailer since it was purchased as part of Baker Boyer's acquisition of the Bank of Commerce in 1986.

The cost of a new structure at the site, 110 S. Water St., is not financially feasible, especially given increasing expenses, Clubb said.

Baker Boyer, named one of the Top 200 Community Banks by uot;US Banker Magazine," has avoided the loan losses suffered by other banks.

But the Walla Walla-based institution has not escaped the impacts from that economic turmoil. Rising Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. costs related to failing banks mixed with new regulatory reforms and the increasing costs of employee health-care contributed to the decision to shut down the Weston branch, Clubb said.

Clubb said no other changes or closures are anticipated.

"We've made significant investments in all of our other facilities, and I just want to reassure the community that we have no plans to close any other branches," she said.

The branch's three employees will continue to be employed by Baker Boyer. Two will move to the Milton-Freewater branch, and the third will be re-located to Walla Walla.

Weston City Recorder Denise Sampson said news of the closure was disappointing. She said the city and other major employers ConAgra and Smith Frozen Foods rely on the local branch and will be hindered by its departure.

;"It creates a financial burden on our community and it also affects our economy," Sampson said.

Customers who want to stay with Baker Boyer can continue to conduct business at the Milton-Freewater branch nine miles away. But Sampson said a closer bank location is U.S. Bank, three miles away in Athena.

Clubb said a number of clients have approached branch Manager Sharon Gowdy to express their desire to follow her. But some may not be able to make the trek to Milton-Freewater, Clubb acknowledged.

"The relationships that Sharon and the employees have are strong," she said. "These clients matter to us, but I totally understand the convenience issue."

Clubb said she met this week with Weston Mayor Duane Thul to see if there may be ideas or ways to help customers overcome the inconvenience. She said existing Baker Boyer customers will have a seamless transition at the bank's other branches. With online banking and debit cards, frequent trips to the bank may be less necessary, she added.

"But we understand that face-to-face meetings with your banker are key to our way of banking," she said. "We need to be able to do that."

She said the bank will work over the next several months to try to come up with solutions. After the closure she said the building and property will likely be put up for sale.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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