If a bank from your neighbor's community moves into your community, can it still be considered your community bank?

Fauquier Bank President and chief executive C. Hunton Tiffany thinks so.

"We came to understand there's a real desire by families and businesses to have true community banking" in Prince William, he said.

At the end of May, Fauquier Bank opened its first branch outside its namesake county, on Sudley Road in Manassas. Tiffany said the bank decided it could fill a niche. He said that homegrown banks in Prince William were being absorbed by larger, out-of-state companies and that a number of Prince William customers were crossing the county line to do their banking in Fauquier.

The new branch will have plenty of competition. First Union and Chevy Chase Bank are across the street. Nearby is the former Security Bank, which merged with F&M Bank last November.

"There is a strong demand for a personalized service that a locally owned bank can provide," said Patricia Satterfield, executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Banks. "As many other Virginia banks have merged out of existence, people are looking for a new, more locally oriented place to do business."

Although Fauquier Bank isn't based in Prince William, the company's leaders think it is local enough.

"All of our decision making is locally based," said Mark Debes, regional market manager for the bank. "We provide most of the financial services you can find at a larger institution, but with more personal service."

Danny May, senior vice president of F&M Bank of Northern Virginia and former president of Security Bank, said Security Bank couldn't remain independent. The bank's last financial results as an independent bank in 1998 reflected the difficulty of competing with larger banks. Net income fell 32 percent, to $256,391 from $377,562.

"We merged because we were too small to give the kind of services that are required to compete with the larger banks," he said. "We could give personal services but couldn't provide the technology that the bigger banks could."

Fauquier Bank, which opened in 1902, has assets of $220 million. It is a subsidiary of Fauquier Bankshares Inc. and operates six full service and seven ATM locations throughout Fauquier and now Manassas.

Tiffany said he thinks the bank has what it takes to avoid merging with a larger institution.

"That is our strategy totally: to remain independent," he said.