These aren’t your grandfather’s bank branches

Plus: Pricey Starbucks in Dilworth; Buzz surrounds upcoming South End land sale; Airport wants to speed up security lines

Good morning! Today is Monday, October 28, 2019. Expect lighter traffic this morning — it’s a CMS teacher workday.

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With digital banking taking off, new branches focus on education, community: Conference rooms, advice, yoga?

One of the biggest stories in banking in the last few years has been the shift toward digital banking. Big banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo have sunk wads of cash into technology to allow customers to make deposits by phone and to automate many of the other transactions that used to take place at bank branches.

But as much as banks are investing in technology, they’re not giving up on physical branches, either. Sure, they’re reducing the number of branches — Bank of America, for instance, has about 1/3 fewer than it did a decade ago.

However, they also continue to open new branches. We’re going to see more of that in the coming months in Charlotte, with U.S. Bank planning to open 10 branches by the end of next year and JP Morgan Chase planning up to 20 branches in the next few years. And the bank branches of today are much different than those of old.

If you envision a bank as having partitions of teller windows, that’s an old design. Instead, many banks are preferring to think of their branches as education centers, where customers can learn to use technology and receive financial advice. Many new branches have open layouts and feature conference rooms available to customers or to civic groups to make banks more of a destination and less of a transaction center:

  • Uwharrie Bank’s branch that opened last year at Stonecrest includes a “Tech Bar, Interactive Teller Machines, cash recyclers, video conferencing office, plus a large Community Room for local civic, professional, charitable, and networking groups to meet free of charge.” The community bank refers to it as its “branch of the future.”

  • U.S. Bank’s first Charlotte branch, which opened this month uptown, has an area where bank employees can show customers how to use technology. It also features a high-tech ATM, a floor plan with no teller line and a community room available to outside groups, a spokesman said.

  • First Citizens’ newly renovated branch in SouthPark includes a conference room.

  • Bank of America’s new branch in the Bank of America Tower at Legacy Union uptown, which opened last week, includes “innovative technology solutions including iPads, cardless ATMs, Mobile Banking with Erica, Wi-Fi and digital media — as well as in-person expertise to help meet clients’ financial needs.” The branch design allows customers to use technology for their transactions “with a relationship banker to assist if needed,” the bank said in a news release.

In a tour of the branch for the media last week, Bank of America said branches remain crucial, even if their role is evolving in a society that’s becoming more comfortable with technology. “It’s not just a place to transact but a place to come for advice and guidance,” said Jon Wolf, a BofA consumer banking strategy executive.

Wolf noted that research shows that having a branch close to home or work is the top reason to pick a bank.

Consumers are quickly moving to digital, but banks aren’t abandoning customers who want that personal touch. They are serving them differently, however, with an emphasis on education. “There’s always that need for some human contact,” said Charles Bowman, BofA’s Charlotte market president.

Nationally, some banks are going even farther than those in Charlotte. American Banker reported that other innovations include branches that include cafes, have video ATMs and no tellers and host “yoga classes, homeowner association meetings and Oktoberfest-style parties featuring beer and pretzels.”

Dilworth’s $4.5M teardown: Starbucks Coffee

We all know Starbucks is expensive, but this is getting a little ridiculous.

We told you last week how developers were looking to demolish the big Dilworth Starbucks on the corner of Scott Avenue and East Boulevard and replace it and adjacent buildings with a medical office building.

Well now the Starbucks has sold — at top dollar. The 0.28 acre site was bought by medical office developer Summit Healthcare Group last week for $4.5M, county records show. Pretty obvious that nobody spends $16M an acre to keep selling coffee, even if it is overpriced. News of the sale was first reported Friday by Charlotte Agenda. (Interestingly, the site’s owner, real estate investor Tim Brumm, denied to that publication earlier this month that anything was in the works — then the sale closed just two weeks later. Hmm.)

Coffee history: The Dilworth Starbucks was built in the late 1990s, part of the first wave of upscale coffee shops to open in Charlotte. Hard as it is to believe, coffee shops before Starbucks weren’t much of a thing. If you wanted coffee on the way to work, you stopped somewhere and paid, oh, $1 for drip coffee in a Styrofoam cup. A latte was something you’d drink after dinner at an Italian restaurant.

The other interesting historical note is that Starbucks didn’t introduce free Wifi into its stores until 2010 — which means that for several years, local Starbucks stores were filled with people meeting and talking to each other, not populated with people with AirPods working solo on laptops.

Flashback: Starbucks comes to Charlotte

From a July 11, 1996, Charlotte Observer article on Starbucks entering the Charlotte market with plans to build its first two stores in the city — in Elizabeth and in uptown’s Charlotte Plaza building:

Frequently associated with Seattle’s hip coffee culture, Starbucks’ menu features Italian-style espresso beverages. Besides creating coffees from 30 varieties and blends of Arabica beans, Starbucks stores sell coffee-making equipment, accessories, pastries and other foods.

The Queen City’s robust economy and its growing population made it an attractive expansion market, said Charla Price, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, which has 893 locations nationwide. “Charlotte is a very promising market,” said Price, adding that she doesn’t know whether the company has plans to open more stores in Charlotte.

Starbucks will duke it out against rival Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee Co., which entered the market last year with three stores. It faces a slew of other competitors including Peabody’s, Jeremiah’s, Brenner’s, Jackson’s Java and Dilworth Coffee House.

Although Starbucks comes to the Charlotte market relatively late, Price said the store will hold its own against competitors.

Real estate rumblings: Something big near key East/South boulevard corner?

There has been a lot of chatter lately about an apparent upcoming land sale near a prime South End corner — near the intersection of East and South boulevards, behind Grace Covenant Church. It’s either the worst-kept secret in local commercial real estate — at least a half-dozen local real-estate types have mentioned it to the Ledger — or somebody is masterful at spreading disinformation.

The intrigue surrounds a couple parcels owned by Browder-Harris Management Co. Property records show it owns three parcels there totaling about 2 acres, including land that’s now home to Tupelo Honey (the old Pewter Rose space), the parking lot behind it and The Manchester (formerly The Liberty). It does not own the church. Nobody said to be involved is talking publicly about it — not even usually chatty restaurant owners. (A Tupelo Honey spokeswoman told the Ledger she is “happy to set up an interview once we have more information to share.”)

Prime land, high price: The alleged deal is attracting attention because it is in a prime space — next to the East/West Boulevard light rail stop — and because the supposed sales price is possibly among the highest paid for land in that area, if not in all of Charlotte outside the I-277 loop. Those parcels are zoned for mixed-use.

Is it possible this is a baseless rumor? Yeah, it’s possible. But it’s a fact that people who do commercial real estate for a living and usually know what they’re talking about believe this is a big deal about to happen.

Toy store to replace toy store

It looks as though a new toy store is headed to Cotswold Mall to replace Toys & Co., which closed last month.

Toy Mania has stores in Durham and Alpharetta, Ga.

In brief:

  • Automated screeners: The airport plans to spend nearly $3.7M to buy five automated screening lanes, a technology that helps speed travelers through security checkpoints, as part of the airport’s lobby renovations. The equipment “is necessary to provide adequate passenger checkpoint screening throughput during the construction project since there will be times when the total number of security screening lanes will be reduced,” according to tonight’s City Council agenda. The technology will be supplied by Netherlands-based Vanderlande Industries — not to be confused with Vandelay Industries, an architecture and import-export firm popular in the 1990s.

  • Microsoft incentives: Microsoft, which announced 430 new jobs in Charlotte on Friday, is eligible for up to $7.9M million in state tax incentives. Charlotte would kick in about $664,000, and the county would pay $816,117. Local officials would need to approve the city and county money. (Observer)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.