SAN FRANCISCO - Taking a page from high-service and high-tech retailers, Washington Mutual Inc. is opening 21 new branches in Nevada - five this week - that it hopes will snatch at least 8,600 retail households from competing banks and thrifts over the next 12 months.

Wamu is using a branch design that accommodates hand-held devices in its bid to mine a retail market it says has been ill-served. If it succeeds, the cutting-edge stores will be replicated at all Wamu branches.

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