Northeasterners are warming to the idea of banking where they buy bread and bananas.

Although supermarket banking has been growing in popularity across the country, the Northeast has been slow to jump on the bandwagon.

But a recent agreement by Mellon Bank Corp. to open more than 100 supermarket branches over the next five years could be just the beginning of a slew of similar announcements, said Thomas M. Hidell, senior vice president of International Banking Technologies, an Atlanta-based consulting company.

Mellon, which has 44 supermarket branches in western and central Pennsylvania, said last week that it would open 100 bank locations at Acme Markets in the Philadelphia area.

With 25 in-store branches, Mellon already leads Philadelphia competitors CoreStates Financial Corp. and Commonwealth Savings Bank. Mellon plans to close seven of its nearly 100 traditional bank offices as a result of the expansion.

Already, such superregionals as Bank of Boston Corp. have opened in- store banks. Bank of Boston has 66 grocery store offices in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and that number is "changing weekly," said a spokeswoman.

But it's not just the big banks.

People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., with $7 billion in assets, plans to expand its 15 supermarket locations to 48 across Connecticut by 1998. Center Financial Corp., a $4 billion-asset thrift in Waterbury, Conn., opened its first seven supermarket locations from June to August.

What's most striking about supermarket banking in the Northeast, Mr. Hidell said, is that there were fewer than 20 banks in grocery stores at the beginning of 1994, but that number has surged to nearly 200 today.

The region has had the advantage of seeing how supermarket banking worked in areas such as the West Coast and Midwest, Mr. Hidell said.

Robert Davis, senior vice president of retail for Mellon's Philadelphia market, said the move by his bank was not a cost-cutting or branch- consolidation plan, but rather a move to expand within the market. Philadelphians have shied away from non-traditional banking, Mr. Davis said.

Kelly Harvile, marketing coordinator for National Commerce Bank Services Inc., which advises banks on supermarket branching, said banks in the Northeast have kept her company extremely busy over the past couple of years. She said she believes heightened interest by supermarkets and an increase in the building or remodeling of stores has led to the boom in Northeast business.

However, not all banks are convinced that mixing banking and groceries is the way to go. One of Mellon's biggest rivals, Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank Corp., has been lukewarm on the concept. PNC has only one supermarket office, located near Philadelphia, and has no plans to expand.

"We very much believe we're going to look at alternatives to traditional branches," said Jonathan Williams, a PNC spokesman, "but that doesn't mean the model is going to be supermarket banking."

PNC, which also has a significant Philadelphia and New Jersey presence, is developing a virtual bank that allows customers to use only telephones and automated teller machines.

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