Banks in Baltimore seem to have avoided the worst of the violence in the city's riots, though that's partly because they have few branches in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.

For instance, there are no bank branches in the ZIP code where a CVS convenience store and an ACE Cash Express check-cashing store were looted Monday, and no more than a handful of locations in the adjoining neighborhoods.

Some fair-lending advocates were quick to point to the dearth of bank branches in low-income communities as an indirect factor in the riots, as well as those in Ferguson, Mo., last year, even though protests of police brutality sparked the unrest in both cities. But it is often challenging to make a strong financial case for locating bank branches in low-income communities.

Consider St. Casimir's Savings Bank, a 103-year-old thrift, which has four branches in the areas around Baltimore that suffered the worst disruption Monday night.

Ronald Jasion, the $95 million-asset thrift's chief executive, said Tuesday that St. Casimir's has maintained a presence in West Baltimore because of a commitment to serving underbanked communities. But its dedication has come with a price.

St. Casimir's, which has reported three straight annual losses, hasn't considered expansion in 25 years, Jasion said.

The branch on Erdman Avenue, located less than three miles from the looted CVS, receives "minimal support from the neighborhood," Jasion said.

At least St. Casimir's branches have avoided being damaged by the riots, though Jasion closed the Erdman branch on Tuesday after the building's landlord reported receiving threats.

Most Baltimore-area banks are handling the situation with a similar degree of caution.

Susquehanna Bancshares' six Baltimore branches escaped damage, but a spokesperson for the $18.7 billion-asset company in Lititz, Pa., said all were closed or closing early, on Tuesday.

The $1.5 billion-asset Municipal Employees Credit Union of Baltimore, the city's biggest credit union, also reported closing its three branches.

Fraternity Federal Savings and Loan closed its headquarters on Washington Street. Thomas K. Sterner, $165 million-asset Fraternity Federal's chairman and chief executive, did not return calls.

The $351 billion-asset PNC Financial Services Group on Monday opted for an early closure of six Baltimore offices, along with its regional headquarters in the city, a company spokesman said. All of the offices re-opened at normal hours on Tuesday, and none of the locations sustained damage from the rioters.

John Bryant, chief executive of the nonprofit Operation Hope, blamed unrest in West Baltimore largely on "the lack of a market economy" in that area.

A greater banking presence in west Baltimore and neighborhoods like it would go a long way toward redeveloping communities and creating badly needed jobs, said Bryant, who founded his nonprofit after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles in hopes of improving the financial lives of low-income Americans.

"You can't have a market economy without banking, because banking is essential to the flow of capital and credit," he said.

The fact that there are few bank branches in many of Baltimore's affected neighborhoods is "emblematic of the importance of fair provisioning of credit across all communities," said William Michael Cunningham, a social investing adviser at Creative Investment Research.

"Without branches, you remove all chances of services like getting a loan, regardless of how good your ideas are or how good your business is," Cunningham said. "If the institution isn't there, you stand no chance. Sure, you can go downtown and get a loan, but all banking is local."

Gov. Lawrence Hogan Jr. declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, while Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake imposed a curfew that will start at 10 pm.


The city's economy is already suffering as a result of the riots. Many businesses and stores were closed Tuesday and the Orioles postponed a home game against the Chicago White Sox for the second straight day. The Orioles also announced that Wednesday's game would be closed to the public and that its scheduled home series against the Tampa Bay Rays this coming weekend would be played in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Paul Davis, Andy Peters and Jackie Stewart contributed to this report.

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