Smack dab in the middle of last year's busy Christmas season, a Pennsylvania bank's shopping mall office burned to the ground.
Just two days later, however, the branch was up and running - in a trailer.
"The quarters were cramped," said Timothy P. Sissler, president of $275 million-asset Central Bank of Claysburg. "But as a stop-gap measure, it really was a lifesaver."
Facing months of construction and significant deposit runoff, Central called on the Pennsylvania office of LeFebure Corp., headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The banking equipment company immediately towed a trailer about 75 miles to the site, where it would remain for the six months it took to rebuild the branch.
Although hardly exuding an air of dignity and stability, the trailer nevertheless proved a viable alternative.
"We're seeing a lot of these being used where a Wal-Mart store is being built," said John Hopper, a LeFebure general manager. "A bank can miss four to six months as a mall or branch is being built. But this way a bank can start right away."
Mr. Hopper, who has been renting or selling bank trailers for more than two decades, said the most common use for them is as temporary quarters while a main office is being built or undergoing some sort of construction. Given today's stiffer safety regulations and the frequency of liability lawsuits, banks prefer to move into a trailer while work is being done, he said.
"It also allows them to go full-steam ahead and demolish the whole inside of the branch, if they need to," Mr. Hopper said.
The trailers are also used as a way to test a market without spending the $500,000 to $750,000 usually needed to build a branch.
The $135 million-asset Community Bank of Carmichaels, Pa., for example, installed a trailer eight years ago in a sparsely populated town about 20 miles from its headquarters. It's still there.
"It suits our needs at this point," said Joseph W. Adams, vice president of operations at Community. The bank plans to decide within two years whether to build a permanent facility, he said.
Though wheeled, the facilities don't look as if they could be towed away by a passing motorist. Community Bank's trailer has a ramp for the handicapped, a concrete porch in front leading from a paved parking lot, and skirting that hides the wheels from view.
The trailers are normally custom made for each bank. They can include drive-up windows capable of serving two cars at a time, five teller stations, automated teller machines, offices for managers, lobby space, and the latest in security systems.
"It's quite attractive, given that it can be towed around on a couple of axles," said Robert L. Palmer, who is renting a trailer for a few months until his start-up bank's building in Beckley, W.Va., is completed this fall.