A new financial institution is in Union’s future.
Old West Federal Credit Union has purchased the former Community Bank branch building at 539 South Main Street and announced it will open a branch there. An opening date has not been set, but minor remodeling work, site preparation and equipment installation will start in several weeks.
“We are very excited to be bringing banking services back to the folks of Union, and I want to thank the city leaders, past and present, local business owners and Bob Kavanaugh of the Union County Chamber for the role they all played in bringing Old West to town,” said Ken Olson, Old West’s CEO and president.
Union has not had a bank in town since Umpqua Bank closed its branch in late June 2016.
Olson said there is a chance Old West could open its new branch in Union within the next 3-1/2 months.
“Ideally, we would like to be in before the first of the year,” he said.
Olson said the actual schedule will be determined by how long it takes Old West to secure certain types of specialized items, including cash handling equipment and an automatic teller machine.
Old West is a community-chartered, federally insured credit union with more than $170 million in assets and 12,000 members in and around Eastern Oregon. Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits, make loans and provide a wide array of other financial services.
Having a local bank again “will help big time,” said Mike Colkitt, owner of Union Market. “I am really excited. (Many of the) business store owners (in Union) are.”
In particular, he is looking forward to the opening of the Old West branch because it means he won’t have to make so many trips to La Grande to make deposits.
The building Old West Federal purchased in Union was occupied by Community Bank for several years before it closed in early 2012.
Union will be Old West Federal Credit Union’s eighth branch location, Olson said. The other branches are located in
La Grande, Baker City, Pendleton, Hermiston, John Day, Prairie City and Burns.
Union Mayor Leonard Flint said he believes Old West will be a good fit for the community. The mayor noted Old West is headquartered in John Day and understands the small rural communities it serves.
“They know what people in rural communities need from a financial institution,” Flint said.
Olson announced in May that Old West was considering opening a branch in Union at a meet and greet attended by about 50 people at Union’s city hall.
Walt Brookshire, a member of the Union City Council, also said the credit union will be a big plus,
explaining it will mean fewer people will be leaving town to do their banking in the future. He said when people leave town to bank they are more likely to do grocery shopping, pick up a pizza a nd make other purchases out of town they otherwise might have done in Union.
Brookshire, the owner of Union Drug Co. and Soda Fountain, said business at his store has declined since Umpqua Bank closed and many other store owners have told him their sales have also fallen.
Brookshire said local store owners have told him the decline is most noticeable on Fridays, with sales down 10 to 25 percent. He believes this is because many people who live in Union but work in places like La Grande are paid on Fridays. Without a bank in town, residents must cash or deposit their paychecks at banks outside of Union and often purchase items in La Grande and other towns instead of doing so in Union, he said.
Brookshire is hoping the new credit union will mean downtown Union will again be much busier on Friday afternoons.
The upcoming addition of the credit union is “a step in the right direction,” Brookshire said. “It (will) definitely will be a positive.”
Terri Stoltz, who owns Union Hometown Hardware with her husband, Lee, echoed Brookshire’s comment.
“I’m really excited that we will be a whole town again,” she said.
She noted Union has a drugstore, a gas station, a health clinic.
“Now that we have a bank, that rounds it out,” Stoltz said. “You will not have to leave town for anything.”