Van Stephen Moss didn't want to say goodbye to the South Carolina town that has been home to his ancestors for 200 years.

Faced with moving from Blacksburg or leaving the banking industry, the former First Union Corp. executive decided to open his own bank instead. That would do more than provide for his future, Mr. Moss said; it would also fill a void.

"I had looked around and had seen the banks getting bigger and the decisions being made farther and farther away," said Mr. Moss, president and chief executive of three-week-old First National Bank of the Carolinas. "We were the only (South Carolina) county without a community bank."

Bank openings have become familiar events in the Carolinas, whose native superregionals - NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., and Wachovia Corp. - have become larger and, smaller banks say, more impersonal.

A wave of start-ups, many steered by the victims of consolidation, is heralding a return to an old-fashioned community banking style that once appeared to be disappearing from the southern states. Several new banks have opened or are in the works.

First National of the Carolinas "is typical of the types of start-ups we've been seeing recently" - banks formed by bankers laid off or "fed up with the situation at their institution," said Vernon Plack, a bank analyst at Scott & Stringfellow Inc. in Richmond, Va.

"There are definitely people in today's society who prefer to deal with a smaller institution," said Alvah D. Fuqua Jr., president of the North Carolina Bankers Association.

"When a good community bank is merged into a larger institution, it does create a perceived opportunity to start another community-based bank."

Another banker who thinks he has found such an opportunity is Robert T. Braswell, president and chief executive of Carolina Savings Bank, Greensboro, N.C.

Mr. Braswell, whose state-chartered institution is to open Monday, said it will be a return to "banking 101," emphasizing personal service.

In North Carolina alone, eight start-up banks have opened in the past 15 months, and yet another is scheduled to open Monday, along with Mr. Braswell's.

Furthermore, the Community Bankers Association of North Carolina says there are about 15 more groups "kicking around" in the state, trying to stir up support for new banks.

Paul H. Stock, executive vice president of the group, said he would be "shocked" if the activity didn't produce seven or more new banks.

Similar activity is being seen in South Carolina, where five banks are organizing and 10 have opened in the past two years.

Robert R. Rader, a bank consultant at Banxsource Inc. in Marietta, Ga., said he's helping to open a new bank in Aiken, S.C., with two former bankers who were displaced by NationsBank's takeovers of their respective institutions.

"Hey, it's hard to knock (NationsBank CEO) Hugh McColl's system," said Mr. Rader, who also helped organize Mr. Moss' bank. "But a lot of people don't want to bank 1-800-BANK."

Mr. Moss' bank, for example, has amassed 350 accounts and about $3.4 million in deposits in the first three weeks of its Blacksburg and Gaffney offices.

Being well know in town has certainly helped. Mr. Moss, 46, is a fixture in Blacksburg, where he has done business since 1972.

"People say we're going to see Steve, not the bank," said Bob Moorehead, a certified public accountant in Blacksburg and one of the new bank's investors. "His name is virtually synonymous with banking."

After surviving the purchase of Southern Bank and Trust Co. 10 years ago by Charlotte, N.C.,-based First Union, Mr. Moss left in September 1995 to begin working on his new bank.

Apparently, he got out just in time. First Union, which has $134 billion of assets, sold off its branches in Gaffney and Blacksburg to Palmetto Bank, a community bank based in Laurens, S.C.

When First National of the Carolinas opened last month, Mr. Moss managed to lure away all seven employees in Palmetto's Blacksburg office. He hopes to do the same thing with customers' loans and deposits in town.

"To be able to do something like this in your hometown - it feels good," Mr. Moss said. "It's something I thought about for 10 years."

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