Reinvesting in the Community


The drive-through window of the former Wachovia bank branch at Angier and Driver Streets shows the signs of crime and neglect. (Staff photo by Eric O’Neal)

The drive-through window of the former Wachovia bank branch at Angier and Driver Streets shows the signs of crime and neglect. (Staff photo by Eric O’Neal)

An overcast sky hangs overhead a derelict wooden structure which sits in near solitude, hidden behind its well-kept contemporary counterparts. Its shattered windows strangely whistle as wind blows through the cracks and bullet holes littering it.

The Wachovia banking drive-through location on Driver St. has been closed since 1998, sitting abandoned behind a well-maintained plaza of businesses and a church.

Even though Wachovia left NECD in 1998, evidence of its existence remains. Many think the community would be better served by a credit union where members are invested in the operation. (Staff photo by Eric O’Neal)

Even though Wachovia left NECD in 1998, evidence of its existence remains. Many think the community would be better served by a credit union where members are invested in the operation. (Staff photo by Eric O’Neal)

Since its sudden closure 17 years ago, the absence of any full-service ATM is undoubtedly noticeable in the area and Northeast Central Durham.

Peter Skillern, Director of Reinvestment Partners, described the absence of mainstream financial banking services as detrimental to the community.

A banking branch, or a full service ATM, according to Skillern, would provide all essential banking services, such as loan services, deposit and withdrawal services.

The question, then, is why the absence? Why did Wachovia pack up so suddenly, and why hasn’t any other mainstream financial institution set up shop during the seventeen year absence in the immediate area?

According to Skillern, the branch closed due to concerns of crime around the area, as well as the branch failing to make enough money. Skillern also stated that Durham City Council and School system withdrew all their business from Wachovia due to the closure.

This may have been true in the pre-millennium, but now the area seems to be slowly growing back up and has changed a lot, as citizens could attest.

“It’s totally different from 1998 now,” said Ray, a lifetime citizen of Durham. “It was a rough area around that time, as well as 2005 and 2006, but it’s gotten much better since then.”

During that time, crime was an issue worth noting. Silvia Rincón, Communications and Service Director of the Latino Credit Union of Durham, stated that the credit union was established because of the Latino population’s fear of robberies and killings.

The Cooperativa Latino Credit Union, located in the city center of Downtown Durham, has no doubt benefitted its members and provided a peace of mind. It was also built in 2000, only two years after the closure of the Wachovia branch.

This being stated, how do these two entities even tie to each other? Clearly there are two different locations, with two different types of financial institutions.

The answer may very well lie in the difference. “A credit union is owned by its members,” Peter Skillern clarified. “The community has a vote in its operations.”

A classic case of service versus profit. Whilst bank branches focus more on financial benefit, which is understandable as they are a business, credit unions are run more for service of its very own members.

This difference in operation very well could be the difference between the sustainability of a financial institution in, so say, a slowly budding community such as NECD.

That same difference of operations is also what Reinvestment Partners specializes in, as Mr. Skillern described CRA’s, or Community Reinvestment Agents, as “Bank watch-dogs”. “We’re always asking the bank, ‘What services are you offering the community?’, and we educate them.”

Bank Advocacy firms such as R.P. attempt to bridge the communication gap between community and corporate bank firms, and try to help both benefit.

“It’s a non-stop fight,” Skillern added. “A constant improvement of service.”

The installation of a financial institution in NECD seems plausible. The space is readily available, an alternative solution has been shown to work, and the Angier and Driver intersection has shed its reputation as the corner for prostitution, drug sales, and drive-by shootings.

Instead of a profit-based institution, maybe one that is service-oriented, and also gives its members a vote in its operations, could be a better fit in NECD.

Eric O'Neal of Cherry Point is a student at N.C. Central University and a staff writer-photographer for the Durham VOICE.