2005-01-14 / Community

Seniors Make Point, Seagirt Boulevard Bank To Remain Open

By Miriam Rosenberg

Contributing Editor

North Fork Bank officials say that the GreenPoint Savings Bank at 17-39 Seagirt Boulevard will remain open on a limited basis after seniors who bank there campaigned to keep it open past its April 1 closing date.

George Vogel, a senior vice president with North Fork Bank (which has purchased GreenPoint Bank) told about 40 seniors the good news at a meeting at Jewish Association for Services to the Aged (JASA) on Seagirt Boulevard on January 12.

“We decided not to fully merge the two branches together,” Vogel said. “We will continue to operate this branch on Seagirt Boulevard a few days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., probably three days a week to make sure we can bring the banking services that you need.”

The news brought applause and comments of “very good” from the crowd.

Vogel explained that the Seagirt bank would be a satellite branch to the North Fork Bank on Mott Avenue. In about a month the system will be in place to allow customers to bank at either branch.

The decision to keep the bank on Seagirt open was made last week after North Fork representatives met with members of the Concerned Citizens For The Rockaways. At that time, Vogel and his colleagues gained a better understanding of the concerns of those who bank at the branch.

The campaign to keep the bank open was begun by Floyd Smith III, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens for the Rockaways.

“It’s very hard for us to get up to town to Mott Avenue,” Smith told The Wave in a December 24 article. “I’m certainly not walking.” In addition to the petition drive started by Smith, local politicians including City Councilman James Sanders, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Democratic District Leader Lew Simon worked behind the scenes to help the seniors. “The councilman’s proposed solution was keeping the bank open a couple of days [a week] or maybe have a transport van,” Donovan Richards, Sanders District Manager, told those at the meeting.

Like Richards, Pheffer spoke before the announcement was made.

“It’s important that [North Fork] saw there was a lot of unrest in this community,” she said. “Because you stood together, because you signed the petitions, because your voice was heard with one cry ‘I want the bank to stay’ I think it’s going to make big results.”

Simon, who could not attend the meeting, spoke with The Wave on January 7. He explained he got involved because many seniors called him expressing fears of going into the Far Rockaway shopping district for, what many called, the first time in years.

Simon also said “I didn’t want a sit-in [with people with wheelchairs and walkers] to demand their right for convenience.”

In a question and answer session, Vogel said things being considered at the Seagirt Boulevard branch includes banking available on the 3rd of the month when social security checks arrive; making the ATM (which is now inside the bank) more accessible to customers and reassessing the number of days open after evaluating its usage.

Imogene Lewis, who will manage both branches, believes having two branches open will alleviate any potential for overcrowding. To accommodate their Russian-speaking customers, they have one employee at GreenPoint who speaks Russian and are looking for a second person.

Vogel explained that customers would be contacted with an explanation of any changes and when they will be able to use both banks.

Smith (of the Concerned Citizens For The Rockaways) said, “It’s not good enough for me,” about the bank being open part-time. He promised to circulate petitions again if the bank does not serve the community.

The president of a local tenant group at one senior housing complex, Penni Ambrose, was much more pleased with the results. She called it a victory.

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