Before First Niagara Financial Group even cut the ribbon for its new Route 44 location in Avon Thursday afternoon, the new business was already giving back to the community.
Bank officials presented a $5,000 check to Gifts of Love Director Dianna Goode for the Avon non-profit’s Weekend Food Backpack Program, which provides weekend meals and snacks for kids in need in Avon, Canton, Farmington, Simsbury and West Hartford every Friday.
“I can’t think of a better organization for First Niagara to support. The children of today are the leaders of the future and we need to support them in any way that we can,” Marlene Piche, New England retail banking director for First Niagara, said. “So, Diana, we applaud what you’re doing.”
Goode, an Avon resident, said she personally became a “huge fan” of the banking corporation before it moved into the former Boston Market that operated there for 15 years.
The Saturday before Goode’s daughter was about to head off to her first year at Ithaca College in New York, she hadn’t gotten her debit card yet to enable her to use the First Niagara ATMs on campus.
The ATM card had been sent to an old address. Goode called the West Hartford branch of First Niagara since the Avon one hadn’t opened yet. Even though the bank was nearing closing time, the branch manager agreed to stay open a little later so that Goode’s daughter could get her ATM card before she left.
“I honestly felt like it was no big deal,” Goode said in a speech. “They totally talked me off the ledge. I really appreciate it.”
Avon Town Manager Brandon Robertson, Councilwoman Pam Samul (R), Councilman and 17th District House candidate David Pena (D), State Rep. Tim LeGeyt (R-17), State Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8), Avon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Bohman and other members of the community were there to welcome First Niagara to Avon.
“It’s always exciting when there’s an opening versus a closing,” Bohman said of the bank, which is a new chamber member. “I’m looking forward to them being a contributor to the town and to the community at large. The chamber is looking forward to working with them as they do business and grow in our community.”
Many staff members were also present and one customer was already lined up to use the drive-thru banking lane before 1 p.m.
The Buffalo-headquartered banking corporation, which opened another branch in Plainville last week and is launching a Rocky Hill branch next week, has “invested more than $1.5 billion in local lending to retail and commercial customers.” There are more than 300 First Niagara banks – 82 of which are in Connecticut – nationwide, including Western Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York.
There were already about seven banks in Avon, mostly located on the Route 44 corridor, but Robertson saw the opening of one more as a benefit to Avon.
“It offers convenience to residents,” Robertson said. “It’s driven by demand.”
LeGeyt, who is on the Collinsville Savings Society board, said that banks are highly regulated by the state and federal government, which can hold them back from being profitable. However – impressed by the professional and friendly nature of the staff members he met – he said he was glad to see a bank able to overcome the challenge in order to be successful.
“I’m pleased to see a bank come into Avon even though there’s a lot of competition in Avon and Canton in the banking industry,” he said.
Bob Zappalordi, of Hamden, whose father, Alfred, ran Al’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Bar in that building about 23 years ago, said he couldn’t believe the space was now a bank. He reminisced with some longtime Avon natives near the food table at the event, which coincidentally was where the ice cream counter used to be in his dad’s business.
While the transformation from ice cream shop to food market to bank is significant, the community members who came were pleased to check out the new establishment.
When Avon resident Mortimer Katz, 93 – an Al’s regular – was asked if he could believe the building was now a bank, he said, “I can believe anything.”
“It’s amazing what you can do here,” he said.
First Niagara is located at 232 West Main Street in Avon.
The Avon branch is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and closed on Sunday. The drive-thru runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, you can call 860-676-0338 or visit the company’s website at www.firstniagara.com.