Still the lamp, but no bank
This is a story about loyalty, an old lamp and a little town’s effort to resist corporate culture.
Minden Town Board members decided Wednesday to contact Wells Fargo Bank officials to express their dismay that the Esmeralda Avenue branch is closing June 26 in favor of a new Carson Valley facility in Gardnerville.
Don Hellwinkel, whose family has owned and operated the C.O.D. Motor Co. in downtown Minden since 1911, urged town board members to make every effort to keep the bank in Minden.
“I don’t think we should go down without a battle,” Hellwinkel said. “The bank should be asked to stay in Minden. The old building is quieter and roomier and has better parking than the new building.”
Bank officials announced earlier this year that Wells Fargo would shut down its Minden branch and move operations less than a mile away to Gardnerville.
But to some old-time Minden residents and merchants, the new Carson Valley branch might as well be in Timbuktu.
When the branch closes on June 26, it will be the first time in more than 80 years there will be no banking on Esmeralda Street in downtown Minden. The first facility was the old Farmers Bank which still stands. That was taken over by First National Bank, which became First Interstate Bank. Wells Fargo took over FIB in late 1996.
“We are not reconsidering closure of the Minden branch,” said Bryan Waters, Wells Fargo senior vice president and Nevada Division Manager for retail banking.
“That’s why I made all efforts to make sure that the day after we announced this, we set up arrangements to meet with the town and county to let them know what our plans are,” he said Friday.
The way town board members recall the meeting, Wells Fargo officials left no room for negotiation.
“It was presented to us as an ‘already-done deal,'” said town board member Bruce Jacobsen. “I left with the opinion that what we wanted was just too damned bad. All our suggestions fell on deaf ears. We tried.”
Town engineer Bruce Scott said the board was caught by surprise at the bank’s decision to pull out of Minden.
“Nobody had any idea what it was about,” Scott said.
“I, too, was somewhat surprised,” said town board member Robert Hadfield. “I don’t know what they gained in the move. I think a letter should be written expressing our disappointment in the meeting. They’ve had longstanding support from the business community in our town. I think the new facility has several detriments, especially the traffic.”
Waters, who is based in Las Vegas, said the new Carson Valley branch is “state of the art.”
“We are making a large financial commitment to build that facility to accommodate all our existing customers in Carson Valley. It’s a beautiful facility and will have more than enough capacity to serve all our customers in Carson Valley and help us grow and be an outstanding corporate citizen.”
Waters said Wells Fargo has made an effort to contact all customers, going so far as to illustrate back routes to get to the Gardnerville branch if they don’t want to drive on Highway 395.
“Ever since Wells Fargo moved in here, they’ve never cared very much about the public, only about computers and how much money they’re making,” Hellwinkel said.
Many of the bank’s more loyal customers still remember the seven employees who got sacked by the bank just before Christmas 1996 when the company took over for First Interstate Bank.
“These decisions are never easy,” Waters said. “They are always emotional, particularly when you have been dealing with a facility as long in operation as Minden.”
Wells Fargo did agree to leave behind a historic lamp that first lit the way to the old Farmers Bank on Esmeralda in 1918.
When Wells Fargo announced it was closing the Minden branch, town officials asked that the lamp be spared, perhaps for display at the entrance to the community.
Officials made inquiries only to discover the Carson Valley Historical Society was ahead of them, and the lamp will be hung at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in – gasp! – Gardnerville. At least it’s not leaving the Valley.
“The lamp originally hung outside the Farmers Bank,” said Marlena Hellwinkel, president of the Carson Valley Historical Society.
“Then it disappeared for awhile,” she said.
Her brother-in-law, Daniel Hellwinkel, tracked the missing lamp to patio of a bank officer in Reno.
“Daniel called the bank officer and strongly suggested that the lamp be returned to Minden, and it was,” Hellwinkel recalled.
Ever since, the lamp has been displayed at what is now Wells Fargo bank.
Daniel Hellwinkel operates the C.O.D. Garage with his brother Don Hellwinkel, Marlena’s husband.
The lamp was removed from the Minden branch on May 2 and taken to the museum where it will hang in the main hallway.
Minden town board members also are making a pitch for the bank branch building once it closes, either to be used by the town or offered to another bank.
Waters said the building is being appraised.
“As soon as we have a chance to evaluate the market value, we’ll let them know,” he said.
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