New bank for St. John Parish builds in LaPlace

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2001


LAPLACE – A new bank is coming to the LaPlace area and is expected to open in late February or early March. Community Bank will open its Belle Terre location after construction is complete. It will be the eighth Community Bank, but the first in St. John Parish. Others are located in LaFourche Parish, from Thibodaux to Golden Meadow and Napoleonville. The bank was founded in 1964. “One reason we wanted to build a large branch is to send a strong message that we feel good about being here, that this is a permanent facility,” said branch manager Merrill C. Wautlet Jr. “This bank is pretty far from our others. It’s going to be like a stand-alone bank. Everything will be here.” The outside, which is almost complete, has a red roof, and Wautlet plans to have the yard landscaped with indigenous plants. “We want it to feel homey, to look more like a house than a bank,” he said. The inside will have double crown molding, wood doors and marble floors in the lobby. Wautlet, who previously worked for Whitney Bank, joined Community because he said it is smaller and allows for better working relationships with the public. “That was the appeal for me, to be able to relate to people on a more personal level, and this afforded me that,” he said. “We’re different because we develop relationships with people. If a person needs a business loan, he can come to me with that. If the same person needs a car loan, he’d come to me. They’ll be dealing with the same person all the time,” said Wautlet. According to Wautlet, the bank will also have some features the larger chains have. There will be debit and credit cards and on-line banking, for example. There won’t, however, be any voice mail. He also said that a smaller bank can be flexible. “You have to be creative when you’re a small bank. We customize to fit our customers’ needs. For example, if a person is running late and can’t make a deposit on time, he might call and we’ll go pick it up. If someone is busy all week and can’t meet with us until Saturday, we’ll come up here even though the lobby is closed on Saturday,” he said. The drive-up service is offered from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturdays, however. Al Salas, assistant branch manager, is also coming from a larger bank to Community. He has worked at Hibernia, Regions and Whitney banks and is now bringing his experience to a smaller bank. Wautlet and Salas combined have 39 years of banking experience, and according to Wautlet, each has strengths that compliment the other’s abilities. Wautlet and Salas have been meeting with local businesses. “So far everyone has been really nice,” said Wautlet. “We’ve had a lot of appointments.” “Overall, no one has turned us down for an appointment,” added Salas. Even if a business person was not interested in changing banks, the person still met with them, they said. “This has been one of the friendliest experiences I’ve had as a banker,” said Wautlet about his meetings with St. John business people. Community Bank will be sponsoring the dinner for the next St. John Parish Business Association meeting. Wautlet and Salas said they are trying to make Community Bank into a bank that St. John residents will feel comfortable with. They do not wear coats and ties because they feel that those can be intimidating. They’ve also hired local people to work in the bank. “You’ll see people you know when you come here,” said Wautlet. “We just want people to feel like its their bank.”