North Fork Bancorp, which became a major force in suburban New York through a rapid series of acquisitions, is taking a different approach to the Big Apple itself. It is building from scratch.

The $10.7 billion-asset company, based in Melville, N.Y., said Monday that it would open 12 branches in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the next year and hire 100 people. The aim: to woo small-business and high-end retail customers from the likes of Citigroup and Chase Manhattan Corp.

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