Local bank makes Bon Air debut

Essex Bank recently unveiled its newest branch in Bon Air. Photos by Michael Schwartz.

Essex Bank recently unveiled its newest branch in Bon Air. Photos by Michael Schwartz.

A 50-year-old Southside bank branch has been brought back to life.

Essex Bank opened for business in its new Bon Air branch on Monday, its 22nd location.

The property at 2730 Buford Road had been vacant for about two years after it was shuttered by Gateway Bank & Trust in 2013.

Essex, a $1.15 billion bank that keeps its corporate headquarters in Deep Run III, bought the Bon Air property from Gateway last year for $550,000. It then spent about $850,000 to upgrade the space inside and out, Essex CEO Rex Smith said.

“We wanted to do it right to show the neighbors that we’re committed,” Smith said.

Essex is continuing with a new interior layout for the Bon Air location.

Essex is continuing with a new interior layout for the Bon Air location.

Hourigan Construction handled the renovations, and Evolve Architecture designed the space. It’s Essex’s fourth branch to utilize a new interior layout that eliminates traditional teller lines, a setup that’s becoming more popular in the banking industry.

For Smith, the new branch is on home turf. He grew up in Bon Air and knows much of the history of the surrounding storefronts. He also worked in the Buford Road location during his days at the former Bank of Richmond, which was acquired by Gateway Bank & Trust in 2007 when Smith was CEO. Bank of Hampton Roads then absorbed Gateway in 2008, inheriting the 2,800-square-foot Bon Air branch.

The property was built in 1962 and had been owned by the former Citizens Bank of Chesterfield until Bank of Richmond bought it in 1999.

Smith said Essex will initially target surrounding businesses as potential new customers, and he said he thinks the bank can hit $15 million in new deposits at the branch by year’s end. That should be helped by his knowledge of the area and that of Branch Manager Aubrey Cuthrell, who came over from the Bank of America location up the street.

“We have such a connection to the neighborhood,” Smith said.

Rex Smith

Rex Smith

Smith’s and the bank’s connections to Bon Air were evident Tuesday, when a longtime resident of the neighborhood sauntered in to check out the new arrival to his neck of the woods.

Turns out, the customer’s children went to school with Smith and his sister, back in the days when kids safely rode their bikes along Chippenham Parkway, Smith said.

“I grew up three or four blocks that way,” he said, pointing out the branch’s shiny new front door.

Essex and its parent company, Community Bankers Trust, revealed its first-quarter financials last week, reporting $1.69 million in net profit, up from $1.53 million in the same period of 2014.

The bank has been in expansion mode in recent years, having opened two new branches in Maryland and expanding into its new 27,500-square-foot headquarters in the former Circuit City complex in Henrico County.

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