Small Calif. Town Celebrates Return Of Services

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This small, isolated town on California's northern coast has access to financial services again after a credit union has opened up here.

Oakland-based Inwood Credit Union has opened a branch, filling a vacuum created when Westamerica Bank pulled out of town in February 2003. Local residents, the California league and a member of Congress were all involved in helping to bring a financial institution to Point Arena.

In a town of just 470 people, in the first week after opening Oct. 18, the Inwood branch attracted 130 members and took in a little more than $1 million in deposits. Thirty accounts alone were opened on Oct. 23, when Inwood hosted a grand opening community barbecue, which about 150 area residents attended, said Ron Scott, Inwood CEO. There are approximately 3,700 households in the surrounding area, with the closest bank branch, also Westmerica Bank, some 32 miles away in Gualala.

"This has really meant a lot. It's been hugely positive for the downtown area and for the spirit of the community," said Mayor Leslie Dahlhoff.

The branch is in a small refurbished storefront on the town's Main Street, a short stretch of California's famous coastal Highway 1.

"This was really a labor of love by the entire community," Scott said. "The branch was completely refurbished inside and painted by volunteers locally. The community donated at least $30,000 in labor."

The city purchased an ATM for the branch; Inwood CU will buy the ATM at the end of two years.

The branch is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with appointment hours on Mondays for merchants. It is overseen by branch manager Beatrice Brown, an Inwood employee who relocated from Inwood's main office 100 miles south, and Deanna Kespohl, a member service representative recruited from the Point Arena area.

Dahlhoff brought the town's plight to state Sen. John Burton, who contacted the California Credit Union League, which has worked with Burton on credit union-related issues over the years. Scott met numerous times with local officials, and with an advisory committee made up of nine area residents, who will continue to help guide the branch's direction, as well as provide volunteer help with non-financial matters.

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