Despite a negative economy and an already crowded market, a few brave souls have opened a new bank in Wethersfield and hope to catch the eye of local business owners.

The Connecticut River Community Bank officially opened the doors of its temporary headquarters in November. CRCB officials have spent the past three months filling in key staff positions and trying to increase the bank’s deposits.

Prior to opening, bank principals raised approximately $7 million in capital. The decision was made to open up shop temporarily in the Marshall’s Plaza on the Silas Dean Highway. The board of directors felt it would be advantageous to open early and start building a portfolio despite the fact that their headquarters was still under construction.

The bank’s current location is only temporary, with a freestanding building under construction down the street at 1190 Silas Dean Highway. Bank President William Attridge said the plan is to move into the new location in the next few months. The bank will leave the plaza at that time.

“The shell is completed now and they’re putting the vault in as we speak,” he said.

There is a considerable level of competition in the immediate area of CRCB, and while the bank is technically the only “community” bank on the block, there are half-a-dozen branches owned by larger regional banks on the same street.

Although Attridge concedes that the retail end of banking – the checking and savings accounts, for example – are going to be highly competitive in the area, he believes that his bank will have a leg up with business lending.

“At our bank you’re dealing with local people that know the market,” he said. “In the size of the loans we deal with, typically $1 million or less, you probably don’t get the same reaction at a larger bank than you will from us. Something like a $500,000 loan, or even a $200,000 loan, is very important to us so we jump on it. We meet with the borrowers, make a decision quickly and turn it around, and that’s what most small-business people want.”

Without a permanent home for its operation, the bank has been holding back on its advertising campaign. That was coupled with the fact that its advertising spokesman died recently and has yet to be replaced.

“[Advertising] has been fairly low-key at this point, and we’re just starting to push out ads to let people know we’re here,” said Attridge. “We’re just starting to crank up advertising and we will have a large promotion and open house when we go into our new facility in the spring.”

‘Good Backlog’

In the meantime, the bank has focused its attention on continued business lending in the community.

“We got a good backlog of loan business, and the deposits are coming in. We’ve been continuing to emphasize that we’re the only community bank headquartered in Wethersfield and surrounding towns. All of the other smaller banks have been gobbled up by the Banknorths and Websters of the world,” said Attridge.

Regarding the bank’s origins, he added, “There was a group of individuals, several of whom were on board or involved in another bank taken over by Webster. Some felt they should still have a community bank in Wethersfield, so John Harvey, our chairman, put together a board.” Attridge noted that he, too, had previously been with a community bank that was acquired by a larger chain back in 1999.

With the poor economy during the last few years, Attridge said it was difficult to raise the necessary capital to open the bank. It took about two years to raise enough money, finally arriving at $7 million in late September of last year.

“The best time to start a bank was probably not late November,” said Attridge. “With Thanksgiving and then Christmas, it’s generally not the best banking season. But things are going well now.”

The bank has a small staff of eight, and recently brought a senior loan officer on board to fill out the last key position.

“Basically, we would like to see ourselves as the bank of choice to the business people in the area. We’re going to do everything we can to build the bank up as large as we can from this one location,” said Attridge. He noted that the bank is eyeing at least one other location in the area, but remarked that the bank will have to reach profitability before another branch opens up.

“Every bank is a losing proposition when you first start out,” said Attridge. “In today’s market when you’re investing in securities, there isn’t much yield. So building up our loan portfolio is our primary objective so we can get the bank to be a profitable operation.

“The good news is that it’s happening.”