West Bronx community protests bank closure on Burnside Avenue

Community Board 5 resident and Council D-14 Candidate Pierina Sanchez leads the crowd in rallying for the need for banks on Burnside Avenue.
Photos and video by Jason Cohen

The west Bronx community is outraged at a bank for planning to close its doors on Burnside Avenue at the end of next month.

Led by the Jerome Avenue Revitalization Collaborative (JARC), residents and Bronx leaders protested Amalgamated Bank of 94 E. Burnside Ave. and Chase Bank at 5 West Burnside Ave. on Monday, criticizing its shuttering on account of the thousands of residents and over 100 small businesses that will be left without “accessible high quality financial services options at a time of great financial vulnerability.”

The event was led by fiery District 14 City Council Candidate Pierina Sanchez, who had people chanting, “whose Bronx, our Bronx” and “invest in the Bronx.”

“Today we oppose the permanent closure of Amalgamated Bank,” Sanchez said at the Aug. 24 rally.

Sanchez, a lifelong Community Board 5 resident, recalled how the Bronx, specifically this community, has been disenfranchised since the 70s when the borough was notoriously “on fire.”

Then in the 80s, because there were very few banks in the west Bronx, her parents, aunts and uncles were forced to use check cashing places. But now during a global pandemic, the banks on Burnside Avenue have left the community high and dry.

“We are gathered here today to represent an injustice in the Bronx right here in our own backyard,” Sanchez said. “Finally when we started to have them [banks] around, they turned the corner as soon as things get rough.”

Since October 2019, the nearby Chase Bank has been shuttered due to flooding and leaks and protestors wondered why it has taken nearly a year to fix the flood damage.

Amalgamated Bank told its customers not to worry because they have another location in Co-op City. Sanchez was furious and questioned how the bank can expect people to travel two hours by public transportation during COVID-19.

“We want you back, we need you back, we can’t afford the check cashiers,” she said. “With both Amalgamated and Chase closed, the heart of the west Bronx is left with nothing.”

Jessica Betancourt, owner of Bronx Optical on Burnside Avenue and vice president of BJTBronx Merchant Association, Inc., expressed her frustrations with the banks.

“As a business owner I’ve been asked many times why I choose Burnside Avenue,” she said. “This is a community that needs help from us to continue growing. We feel abandoned and it’s not fair. The Bronx is not a forgotten borough. We need a bank here again.”

Ubaldo Santos, president of BJTBronx Merchant Association, Inc., and a client of Amalgamated Bank, could not believe how the bank is treating the community.

“It is unacceptable that banks abandon this community and leave consumers and merchants looking for ATMs here and there,” Santos said. “It is unacceptable to ask merchants to go miles away from their business in order to speak to a human being or fix a problem. It is dangerous, demoralizing and unacceptable.”

Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson said that the west Bronx has welcomed the bank for over fifteen years, noting that Amalgamated Bank is “an institution founded years ago by immigrants who realized the urgent need for financial services in underserved communities.”

“We are outraged, disappointed and feel abandoned by an entity with whom we have always supported and stood by. It’s unfortunate that when the challenges are the greatest, Amalgamated would choose to take its services elsewhere instead of continuing its investments in our community,” she said, adding she hoped that the bank would reverse its closure.

The move also concerned members of multiple community boards in the west Bronx, including Community Board 5 Chairman Dr. Bola Omotosho.

“In the 21st century, economic empowerment of our constituency is a right, not a privilege. It is a task that is long overdue. It must be done now with collective responsibility,” he said.

Emmanuel Martinez, chair of Board 7  said, “In our daily lives, the steps we take dictate where we’ll be as people, so do the steps of our banks. If they pull out of our community, where will our district be 5, 10, 15 years down the line?”

Board 4 District Manager Paul A. Philps also sounded off on the matter, saying, “Access to financial services and capital is a right not a privilege,” adding, “in a time where thousands of Black and Latino owned businesses need the resources and the reassurance that accompanies local financial institutions, it is quite disheartening to hear that Amalgamated Bank will be closing its branch on Burnside Avenue.”

Protest leaders also called on a local JPMorgan Chase to reopen its doors after 10 months of closure and for the financial services industry to “writ large to better serve the community.”

The State Department of Financial Services was also called on by protestors to strengthen Banking Development District program regulations and oversight of the industry.

In June, Burnside Avenue businesses and storefronts were victims of intense looting in wake of ongoing protests around New York City.

A spokesman for the bank said Amalgamated remains committed to the Burnside community.

“Amalgamated remains a dedicated bank for Burnside residents,” the spokesman said. “Throughout the pandemic, our team has proactively reached out to more than 1,000 Burnside customers — most of our Burnside customer base — to help them gain access to online and mobile banking, provide ATM and debit cards, and provide products, services and information on how Amalgamated can serve them during these trying times.  Amalgamated remains committed to providing continued resources for financial literacy in the Burnside community and in our other Bronx branch location; offering remote transition services, including live online trainings, as well as a dedicated phone number and email for Burnside clients to get support; and, in addition to the 40,000+ Allpoint ATMs across the country — 25 of which are within one mile of the Burnside Branch — we are working to get customers access to Allpoint deposit accepting ATMs in the area.”

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