The town of Yreka is a throwback to California's early days. The sleepy timber town of 7,000 is five hours north of Sacramento, on the edge of the picturesque Klamath National Forest, a few miles from the Oregon border.

Scott Valley Bank is almost as much of a local fixture as the nearby mountain peaks.

But now this quintessential small-town bank is ready to try its hand in the big city.

In less than a month it plans to open a commercial branch in Walnut Creek, just north of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area.

Scott Valley, founded in 1858 - less than a decade after the beginning of the California Gold Rush - is the second-oldest bank in the state, behind Wells Fargo. It has just six offices, including branches in Happy Camp (population 1,100), Etna (835), and Fort Jones (639).

"In a lot of ways, we're kind of an anachronism," said Michael D. Schneider, chief executive of Scott Valley Bank's holding company, Learner Financial Corp., which is based in Walnut Creek. "When you look at the area we do business in, it's the size of Connecticut. But we used to say there were more bears than people up there."

Clyde B. Brooks Jr., president and chief executive of Scott Valley Bank, said that only recently has the atmosphere in California been opportune for such a venture.

"Ten years ago independent banks were on the defensive. It doesn't have to be that way now," Mr. Brooks said. "Independent banks can afford to be on the offensive. The challenges out there right now are tremendous."

"I guess it's an unusual move, but it seems like a natural progression," added Mr. Schneider.

Scott Valley, now with $137 million in assets, was bought by Learner in 1983 and has had a loan production office in Walnut Creek for two years. But this will be its first full-service office outside of rural Northern California.

"With California Bancshares and First Interstate being bought, we see there being a plethora of opportunities for us," Mr. Brooks said. "What we want to do is take our products and employ them in an area where we can get the most leverage."

Scott Valley Bank has a solid base of deposits in Siskiyou County. The Walnut Creek office, which already has a loan portfolio of $24 million, is an ideal place for the bank to loan out those deposits. Now the bank wants to offer more services for its Bay Area clients.

"Our move into this area has been brought about by the ruralness of the bank," Mr. Brooks said. "You can't look solely to the markets in Siskiyou County to continue the profitability of the bank."

The loan production office also gave bank executives the opportunity to learn the Bay Area market.

"Whenever you take a step like we did with the loan production office, you have to contemplate enlarging beyond the original scope," Mr. Schneider said. "We were hoping it would blossom into something more, and it has."

Mr. Brooks said he doesn't anticipate any problems with name recognition, adding the bank's informal style should help ease the transition.

"We're not stuffed shirts," he said. "It's not important for us to put on our wingtips in the morning. What is important is for us to go out and be with our customers. We firmly believe it's the people that provide the services, regardless of the bank's name. People are always looking for the security of good service."

Scott Valley Bank's Walnut Creek branch will emphasize "really personal commercial banking," according to Mr. Brooks, and will operate out of a fifth floor office. Although the bank's service area will range from San Francisco to Sacramento, most of its clients are closer to Walnut Creek.

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