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Pescadero: Lots of greens, but not enough money in bank

May 14, 1997

PESCADERO, Calif. (AP) _ In the 1920s, a bank came to this tiny town along the Pacific Coast and for nearly 80 years loaned money to its farmers and cashed the checks of workers tending strawberry, artichoke and flower fields.

The Bank of Italy building is still here, but its new owners _ Bank of America _ decided the town of 400 people is too small for its own branch, which they want to close.

Many think the loss of their only bank could dry up the town, and nobody’s grateful for Bank of America’s going away present.

``They’ve offered to leave an automated teller (machine) in town,″ said Meredith Reynolds, chairwoman of a town advisory council. ``But around here, that won’t work.″

Pescadero is one of those towns along the beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline south of San Francisco that never really took off as a destination for tourists or surfers.

There’s a beach, but not like Santa Cruz to the south, where people flock to oceanside amusement parks and fishing piers. Just east is San Jose and the Silicon Valley, but nobody is looking to move to Pescadero or even go their for a vacation.

Many of the families who work and live in Pescadero have roots in town that go back several generations. What they do not have is a lot of money in the bank.

``We’re a retail business,″ Bank of America spokesman Harvey Radin said. ``Like any other retailer, we have to look at the markets we serve and our cost structure.″

Bank of America is the third-largest bank in the country, with 1,900 branches in the United States and 36 other countries. It has acquired many banks along the way, and is now cutting costs by shutting down dozens of branches.

Pescadero has long been a ``low-volume″ branch, Radin said from the bank’s San Francisco headquarters 37 miles north. There are no plans to change course on its closing.

Although figures on the bank’s activity were not released, things appeared pretty slow there one recent afternoon. For stretches of several minutes, the bank was empty. A lunch rush created a line of two or three people.

Rancher Steve Oku recalls when Pescadero was among the largest communities in San Mateo County.

``It just keeps shrinking year after year. This will make it shrink some more,″ Oku said. ``You keep losing your infrastructure, it’s hard for agriculture to survive.″

Farm workers may be most affected. Many have limited incomes and no bank accounts and rely on the branch to cash checks, said Marcy Frazier, who handles payroll for a nearby nursery.

``A lot of those people can’t drive all the way to Half Moon Bay,″ she said of the town with the next nearest bank, 15 miles away. ``And the elderly people will miss it. We’re so small that the tellers drive out to their homes and help them with their banking. What will they do now?″

Merchants said the bank keeps them in business. People often stop in at Norm’s Market after withdrawing money from the bank a half-block away. If they have to go 16 miles, they’ll probably shop elsewhere.

``I know what the bottom line means. I can understand why it’s happening. I just think it’s sad,″ store owner Norm Benedetti said.

Reynolds’ efforts to save the bank are partly inspired by the excitement with which her mother recalled the arrival of the branch in the 1920s. It was a major boost to the then-thriving town, said Reynolds, whose forebears have been here since the 1850s.

While she continues to try and talk the bank either out of moving or into bringing in another buyer, others whose families arrived long ago are ready to rough it out.

``I’m not all that broke up over it,″ said Tim Duarte, whose family restaurant and saloon are century-old landmarks.

Pointing to his packed lunchtime dining room, he said, ``We’re not just going to be sticking around _ we’re going to be growing.″

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