Banks cashing in on empty space in Evanston

Paul Thissen

National City bank will open a branch at 1633 Chicago Ave. late this year or early next year, according to the company.

Once construction is complete, the branch will offer a full array of financial services and an ATM at the former location of OfficeMax PDQ.

“We’re planning to open it hopefully by the end of the year,” said Terri Wilson, vice president and media relations officer of National City.

National City already has 45 branches in the Chicago area and is planning to open about 40 new banks by the end of 2006, according to Wilson.

“We want to be in high-traffic areas and growth areas where we feel that our services can fit the demographic of the neighborhood,” she said.

Based in Cleveland, National City has branches in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. It originally expanded into the Chicago area in 1995 by purchasing the First of America banking network.

National City is not the only bank expanding in Evanston. First Bank & Trust of Evanston is building a four-lane drive-through location at the intersection of Benson Avenue, Elgin Road and Emerson Street to take some of the load off of their main branch, located at the intersection of Benson and Church Street.

“Business has been so good here that we need to relieve some of the pressure on our parking facilities,” said First Bank & Trust CEO Robert Yohanan.

First Bank & Trust has advantages over large, impersonal chains, Yohanan said, because the bank is more involved in the community.

“We’re more tailor-made in our approach,” Yohanan said. “The contrast will reflect positively on us.”

Wilson, of National City, said her bank also boasts community involvement.

“We like to get involved in our community and foster the economic development of the neighborhood,” she said.

Last summer, each National City branch donated $1,500 to local charities and closed its doors for an afternoon so employees could volunteer in the community, she said.

Some bank officials said they believe the influx of new banks is unsustainable.

“The (Chicago and Evanston) market is overbanked,” said Jeffrey Joehnk, manager of the U.S. Bank branch at Northwestern. “There are branches popping up everywhere, kind of like Starbucks.”

The new banks will not affect the campus branch, he said, because of U.S. Bank’s unique position. Neither expanding bank is specifically targeting the student market, and U.S. Bank is not planning to open any other branches in Evanston, Joehnk said.

Yohanan, of First Bank & Trust, said he does not think his bank will be crowded out.

“We’ve always felt very strongly in the viability of the economy in Evanston,” he said. “(The new banks) have a desire to share in the economic prosperity of the community.”

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected]