Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

Banking on more competition in Briggs Chaney

New Commerce Bank branch under construction in area with two other financial institutions

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Construction on a new Commerce Bank is under way at the corner of Briggs Chaney Road and Castle Boulevard, an area that already has two other banks.
As construction continues on a new Commerce Bank near the Briggs Chaney Marketplace, its future competitors had a mixed reaction to the prospect of three banks located within a half-mile of one another in the Briggs Chaney neighborhood of Silver Spring.

Commerce is scheduled to open at the end of June at the corner of Briggs Chaney Road and Castle Boulevard, said David Flaherty, Commerce’s senior vice president of corporate communications. A single-family home that used to stand on the site was razed earlier this month. While Flaherty could not speak specifically about the new bank, he said Commerce looks to place its branches near major intersections, where its stand-alone buildings are visible and easily accessible with plenty of parking.

When opened, Commerce will compete with a Bank of America and a SunTrust Bank already in the Briggs Chaney shopping center.

But Flaherty said Commerce’s ‘‘Nordstrom-esque” approach to service makes it different from its competitors. ‘‘We consider ourselves to be retailers, like Starbucks or McDonald’s. ... Our products just happen to be banking and financial services,” he said, adding that none of its 450 existing branches have ever been closed due to competition.

Darryl Johnson, assistant branch manager for SunTrust, located inside the shopping center’s Safeway, said Commerce’s arrival next door will not affect his bank’s business. ‘‘We have a pretty good client base,” he said.

Johnson added it is not unusual for multiple banks to be so close together. ‘‘They’re trying to get into a new market,” he said. ‘‘I’m not worried, not worried at all.”

But Caroline Adegbesokun, assistant manager at Bank of America, said Commerce will affect business. ‘‘We’ll get some competition,” she said. ‘‘People will be curious about it.”

Based in Cherry Hill, N.J., Commerce Bank operated mainly in the Northeast for most of its 34 years and is just starting to establish a presence in the Washington, D.C., area, Flaherty said. Commerce already has branches open in Rockville, Gaithersburg and Hyattsville, and is planning to open additional branches this year. A Bethesda branch is scheduled to open in August, one in Laurel should open in February 2008 and a College Park location is planned to open March 2008. All the branches will be similarly designed, Flaherty said.

Commerce Bank is known for its long hours of operation. The bank is open seven days a week, with its lobby open 8:30 a.m. and drive-through open 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Commerce banks close only four days a year — New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Flaherty said.

‘‘My first thought was, ‘They’re going to make me stay later,’” said SunTrust’s Johnson, with a laugh. SunTrust is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and has limited hours on the weekend, and Johnson said those hours will remain in place.

Bank of America will also keep its business hours, 9 a.m. to at least 5 p.m. weekdays and Saturday mornings, Adegbesokun said.

Stuart Rochester, chairman of the Fairland Master Plan Committee which created a guideline for the area’s growth, said the bank will fit into plans making Briggs Chaney Road more of a ‘‘neighborhood boulevard” with sidewalks and improved access to Montgomery County facilities and businesses.

‘‘It was a lonely residential lot, so it made sense to create something else there more compatible with commercial businesses along Briggs Chaney,” Rochester said.