By the time you're reading this, the town I live in no longer will have a bank.
Why does that matter? Don't we all do our banking online now? Why does it matter if there's a building to visit?
Well, here's one example: I serve on our youth baseball board in Medina and at our most recent meeting we had to discuss how we'll handle it next season when we need to get change for the concession stand and make deposits from registration fees and concessions profits. It's not unusual to have games three nights in a week during parts of the summer. Previously, the lady who heads up that part of our venture could just go into the bank in town and do our business when needed.
If we stay with Choice Bank, the bank that's leaving Medina, North Dakota, she'll have to drive to Steele, another small town 30 miles to the west, every time the club needs change or needs to make a deposit. If we switch banks, she'll have to drive to Jamestown, 30 miles the other direction. Jamestown is not a huge community, either, but since it has essential businesses like multiple large grocery stores, equipment dealerships and ag suppliers, it is where our community tends to gravitate for shopping.
There are many Medina organizations, including school groups and church groups and service groups, having the same conversations. My daughter's 4-H club already switched banks to one in Jamestown, because more people associated with the club work in or regularly go to Jamestown.
I worry about our older population that doesn't do their banking online and maybe doesn't feel comfortable driving 30 miles down the interstate. And the people I really worry about are our business owners and agriculture producers.
Running a business in a small, rural town is difficult. The town is dotted with former businesses that are either empty storefronts or are now used for storage. But still, we've got a cafe, a couple bars and a couple bakery and meat shops that offer some vital groceries, along with a few other businesses throughout town. Those shops that are open daily need change and need to make deposits far more often than our baseball club, and they're not looking at just a month or two out of the year of inconvenience.
And then there is the farm aspect. This is a farm and ranch community, and that bank has been where many people do business. No one has had to make a day of it to go sign paperwork or sit down with a banker. Now, that's going to change, and Choice is probably going to lose some business over it. Farmers and ranchers already dealing with plenty of adversity are going to have to tack on many miles to meet with a lender, to make payments or to do other business. And if they have to do that, they're going to want to travel somewhere they can do other business on the same trip.
From what I've heard, the bank has been open in Medina since somewhere around 1900 under a few different names. The town has changed plenty since then, of course. But the businesses and groups that are still here have relied on having that bank as a partner. The loss hurts. How much it will continue to hurt remains to be seen.
I know business decisions need to be made sometimes. I've reached out to Choice to try to understand this one but haven't heard back yet. And Choice isn't the only bank to close a small-town branch. Unison Bank closed its Lehr, North Dakota, branch fairly recently, and I'm sure there are many other examples.
But for those of us who live here, it feels like a betrayal. It's just one more service to leave a small town, one more thing that makes it just a little harder to live in a small town.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.