A Chicago community bank is betting $3.4 million that it's figured out how to serve its diverse customer base: divide and conquer.

South Shore Bank spent 14 months and millions of dollars renovating the recently reopened branch, which is designed to speed through young professionals while allowing seniors to linger.

The Bronzeville neighborhood that the $850 million-asset bank serves is split roughly fifty-fifty between older, lifelong residents and young professionals who recently have moved to the gentrifying area.

So the bank split the branch in two. The south side of the building has a drive-up entrance where seniors can be dropped off and teller stations where they can sit down and snack on doughnuts and coffee.

The north side, designed for up-and-comers, features financial planners, retail lenders, ATMs, computers with free Internet access, and a voice response system for basic account inquiries.

"Young professionals want to get in and out and might not have time to talk with someone," said LaTawn Baker, the branch's manager. "But seniors love that they can be seated and take care of their transactions with a live teller, no matter how simple the transaction might be."

Ron Johnson, senior vice president of retail banking, said the new design is a reward to seniors for their loyalty. After all, he said, "they're good customers and make us a lot of money."

He added that he was happy to move out of a double-wide that housed the branch during the renovation. "It was a little tight from time to time, particularly the first of the month when everyone comes in with their checks to deposit," he said. "But we were able to weather that storm."


For sale: a series of books that contains no riveting plot twists or dramatic story lines.Sound enticing? Harry Eisenberg didn't think so either until four years ago, when he took over Walker's Manual, a company that publishes financial data on often obscure privately held firms and thinly traded stocks.

Now Mr. Eisenberg, a 51-year-old former accountant, is looking for someone to buy his Lafayette, Calif., company, which publishes titles such as "Walker's Manual of Community Bank Stocks," "Walker's Manual of Penny Stocks," and "Walker's Manual of Unlisted Stocks." Most of the companies covered are so small they aren't even required to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"There's a lot of research information published about banks, but at the same time there's a lot of small- and medium-sized banks that get almost no attention," Mr. Eisenberg said. "In some cases, these companies are very good investments because their low visibility means they carry less of a market premium."

Since putting Walker's on the block about six weeks ago, Mr. Eisenberg said he has fielded inquiries from 33 potential buyers - mainly publishing houses or brokerage firms with a heavy focus on banks.

Mr. Eisenberg said he is willing to wait until next fall to complete the sale because he had planned to publish the books for up to five years. A former partner at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, Mr. Eisenberg took over Walker's in 1995 after the death of publisher Bob Walsh, who was a friend of his.

"I was always interested in investments but wasn't sure how interesting community banks would be," Mr. Eisenberg said. "They've turned out to be a lot of fun."

- Craig Woker

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