Earl Reid is not a man who takes easily to change: not only is his phone still listed under the name of his father, who died in 1944, but Reid has banked at the Occoquan branch of the Bank of Virginia since 1928.
So when Reid, 71, got a telephone call last week from a neighbor who passed the word in this tiny town that the bank was being closed because the Bank of Virginia had decided it was unprofitable, Reid's reaction was predictable.
"Didn't think much of it," he said.
Nor, for that matter, did many of his neighbors. About 100 of them (the town has 241 residents) signed a petition Friday vowing to change banks if the $3.2 billion Bank of Virginia goes ahead with its plans to close the old bank's doors April 29 and merge it with a newer branch in nearby Marumsco.
In Occoquan, perched on the south bank of the Occoquan River in Prince William County, the beige brick bank, the only one in town, is more than a business. It has served for decades as the clearinghouse for those little comings and goings that make up the fabric of everyday life.
"Oh, we know about everyone's children and everyone's colds--there are no secrets here," said teller Maria Schornagel, one of two who work behind the old-fashioned wooden counter.
So the bank's customers have vowed to fight or switch rather than do their banking in the modern Bank of Virginia Marumsco branch.
On Friday morning, dozens of old-time residents packed into the austere lobby of the Occoquan bank, dripping rainwater onto the wooden floor and clutching soggy hand-typed petititons, to square off against bank officials arrayed before them in gray three-piece suits. The officials had driven up from Richmond for the day to listen to residents' complaints and murmur words of assurance.
"We are very touched--if nothing else--by the loyalty of our customers," said bank Vice President Martin H. Sugg, who was backed up against a desk by angry citizens. "We hope they will be understanding and realize this bank is not economically feasible for us to operate. They will get the same care at Marumsco."
Twelve-year-resident Mildred Pugh gave him a grunt of skepticism. "We don't want to be a name or number at Marumsco Plaza," she declared. "If you close this bank, I am--we all are--taking our business elsewhere."
"Obviously this is more than just a bank to us," said petition organizer Carol Cook, who owns a combination dog grooming parlor and crafts shop on Commerce Street. "We're all a bunch of characters here. We cling to our individuality. This bank treats us as individuals. The tellers know our names, our ups, our downs--everything. This is an old-fashioned bank--no genie machines, no plastic cards--and that's the way we like it."
Bank spokeswoman Carol Allen said there are 119 branches of the Bank of Virginia throughout the state. She said the Occoquan branch is the only one being closed at this time because it is operating at a loss.
"It was a management decision," said Allen, who would not divulge the amount of money deposited in the Occoquan bank.
Residents of Occoquan, many of whom are old-timers born and raised in and around the town, see more than a bank when they look at the old brick box of a building. They see an integral part of their historical town, said Mayor Donald Lynn, whose grandfather W. S. Lynn helped found the bank in 1910. It was the first branch of the Bank of Occoquan, according to the American Bank Directory. Then, in 1962, it merged with four other banks to become the Bank of Virginia.
"So this is really the original bank in the original building," said Schornagel. "We're very proud of it."
Unlike its contemporary counterparts, Occoquan's bank has few modern conveniences. There are only a few wooden tables in the 14-foot lobby; residents say the bank had to dispense with safety deposit boxes because mice were nibbling at their contents.
And, as Wood put it, "you can stand in the lobby and look into the vault. It's sort of reassuring to know your money is right where you can see it."
But even newcomers to Occoquan, such as Ann Sale, who opened the Watkin Mans herb and spice shop under Wood's dog grooming parlor seven months ago, sense the importance of the bank.
The town "just fills up with people shopping and going to the restaurants," she said, sloshing through pouring rain to take her part in the bank protest. "But the people who actually live and work here . . . see the bank as part of the local community."
Alexander B. Berry, senior vice president of the Bank of Virginia, said he understands how people can love an old-fashioned bank in an era of electronic tellers.
"Sure, I can understand how they feel. I would feel that way too," said Berry in a telephone interview from Richmond. "We would hope we could give them the same feeling in Marumsco. But it is a larger bank with more customers, so I would not venture to say it's going to be that same hometown bank.
"It just is not cost-effective to keep that bank open," he said. "I wish it could be different, but we simply can't keep a losing proposition on our hands."