Centura Banks Inc. announced a deal that would give it dominance in North Carolina supermarket banking.

Under an agreement with Hannaford Brothers Co., Centura will open 24 North Carolina store branches within 18 months, plus branches in Virginia and South Carolina stores.

"Unless somebody does something that we're not aware of, we'll be the largest in North Carolina," said Robert James, Centura's director of market planning and customer development.

Memphis-based National Commerce Bancorp. currently operates the largest in-store franchise in the Tar Heel state, with eight branches.

The link-up with Hannaford is the latest in a series of strategic moves by Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Centura, which has $5.5 billion of assets.

Centura is only the sixth-largest bank holding company headquartered in North Carolina, but it has pioneered the use of technology and alternative delivery in the state. Through a link-up with Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money, for example, Centura is currently the only bank in the state to offer an on-line banking and bill-paying service.

"To us, supermarket banking is another form of alternative delivery," Mr. James said. "It's not traditional branches; it's not telephone banking or on-line money management. But it is something in between those two."

Within North Carolina, the Hannaford branches will complement Centura's existing network of 152 freestanding offices and one in-store branch, with the added benefit of strengthening the bank in key urban markets such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington. Mr. James said Centura may be able to shed some of its traditional branches if the supermarket venture proves successful.

Other in-store players in North Carolina are watching Centura's expansion with interest. "It's a pretty bold move," said W. Harold Parker Jr., senior vice president and controller of Durham-based CCB Financial Corp. in Durham. CCB's major subsidiary, Central Carolina Bank and Trust Co., operates North Carolina's third-largest supermarket bank, with five branches in Harris Teeter stores, and is considering additional locations.

By joining Hannaford in selected Virginia and South Carolina markets, Centura becomes one of the few banks to attempt a de novo expansion entirely by supermarket branching. Mr. James said Centura was inspired by the example of National Commerce, which operates a supermarket banking franchise without any traditional branches in the Raleigh-Durham area.

"We think National Commerce has proven you can go into a state de novo and do pretty well with just in-store banks," Mr. James said. "What we're trying to do is break through that old paradigm that says if you go into Virginia or South Carolina you build traditional branches."

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