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WILSON – Wilson residents and businesses have been notified that the village’s branch of First Niagara Bank – the community’s only bank – will be closing on March 7.

“This is a tragedy for our community,” said Mayor Bernard “Bernie” Leiker. “This is going to be very difficult for our residents and for our businesses in the village and in the town. First Niagara has branches in Ransomville and Newfane, but it’s going to be a huge imposition for us to go there.”

First Niagara Financial Group, parent company of First Niagara Bank, took over the branch at 264 Young St. when it purchased 183 of HSBC’s upstate New York branches last year. Scott Fisher, a First Niagara senior vice president, said it is a case of the bank having too many duplicative branches.

“At First Niagara, we are constantly evaluating our branch network,” he said. “At the time of the HSBC conversion in May of 2012, we consolidated 30 branches in New York State that were obvious duplications in our network. We took a cautious approach with a few additional consolidations to ensure we truly understood customer preferences and traffic patterns. The Wilson branch consolidation is one of those moves that we are now executing in the first quarter of 2014.”

Jodi Johnston, the bank’s corporate media relations director, added that Ransomville and Newfane are each six miles from Wilson and that, “No other Niagara County branches are slated to consolidate.”

She confirmed that March 7 would be the last day of business at the Wilson branch.

Leiker said village representatives have met with bank officials twice, “but they won’t budge” on their decision to close the Wilson branch.

“A committee has been formed and we are now trying to find another financial institution – a full-service bank or a credit union to come in,” he added.

Phil Russell, president of the Wilson Business and Professional Association, said, “All of the little businesses in Wilson rely heavily on this bank. They will all suffer, especially those who stay open late and need to make deposits. It will be a burden on them, especially if they have to drive a bit to do it in the weather we’ve had lately. We have a lot of home businesses here, as well as the fact that our agricultural community depends on this bank, too. This will also impact our sizable senior population.

“This is purely a business decision on the bank’s part, but for us, it’s a tremendous loss,” he added. “But if a new, small bank could come in, they’d have a diamond in the rough here and I think they’d be very happy to move into Wilson.”

Another consideration is the building the bank is vacating, both men noted. Leiker said, “It’s around 100 years old and is one of our oldest buildings on that street and now we’ll have another vacant building. The building is in really good shape, but it’s not handicapped-accessible. In the past, if one of our residents was in a wheelchair, they’d call the bank when they were going there and a teller would come out to meet the customer outside. We can do that because we’re a small community.”