"That was a lot of money in those days," he said.While the deposits dipped to $20 on the bank's second day of business, the initial money entrusted to the institution allowed it to survive the Great Depression, which hit the country just five months later.Last month the Flushing-based bank, which has expanded to 11 branches in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Long Island, celebrated its 75th anniversary of providing the community with local financial service, Hegarty said.The bank was founded by Judge Charles Colden, for whom Queens College's Colden Center is named, and other entrepreneurs in Flushing, Hegarty said."The first president of the bank was Judge Colden Ñ if you walk around Flushing you can find his name on town halls and other places," he said. "He and a group of local business men decided to open a savings bank for the community."The bank offered basic banking services for decades and began an ambitious expansion of both facilities and products in about the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hegarty said. The bank decided to convert from a mutual savings bank to a publicly traded corporation in 1994 in order to raise more capital through stock sales and expand its holdings, he said. Now the bank has 11 branches with six of those in Queens Ñ including the executive offices on Northern Boulevard in Flushing and branches in Flushing, Auburndale, Bayside and Astoria."Our approach has been to work within the confines of Queens and find communities for new branches," he said. "We're a small fish in a big pond."It is that attitude and the relationship with the borough communities it serves that has kept Flushing Savings Bank thriving in a world where large corporate banking institutions install branches and ATMs on every corner, Hegarty said."In the banking area we operate in there's a lot of gold to mine," he said. "If we can take a little bit Ñ a small percentage of the share is a large increase for us."The bank has broadened its selection of products, moving beyond simple savings and checking accounts to mortgages and loans, and has worked with the non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services and the federal Small Business Administration, which help potential home owners and entrepreneurs, respectively, secure financing. The bank also offers investment services and started a pilot program helping hopeful hacks buy yellow taxi cab medallions from the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, said John Buran, vice president and chief operating officer."They cost up to $270,000 a piece," he said of the medallions. "We take that as collateral against the money we loan." The borough, particularly Flushing, has seen tremendous number of immigrants settling in the area, and that has been a boon to Flushing Savings Bank, Buran said."There is a constant flow of immigrants entering the area, opening businesses, adding to the population," Buran said. "This is a Mecca for a number of groups. It means very, very good business for a community bank like ours."But in serving the immigrant population, especially the heavily Asian newcomers to northeast Queens, the bank has had to overcome a number of challenges, including a fear of banks and language and cultural barriers, Buran said."Initially there is some resistance to financial institutions but it is remarkable how quickly these populations become Americanized," he said. "They adapt very well to our culture without losing their own, and that's exactly the market we want to serve."To topple those obstacles, the bank relies on its diverse staff, Hegarty said. "Our workforce really mirrors the community we work in," he said. "We have a multiethnic workforce."And the bank has been involved in community projects, including hospital and health-related issues, the Boy Scouts and Flushing's Lunar New Year events, Hegarty said.Flushing Savings Bank is also looking to serve more communities as it continues to expand, Buran said. The bank has targeted 15 different areas as sites for future growth, and all of them are in Queens, he said."This is a great borough, and we think there are some areas that could still use a branch."Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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