There are five bank branches clustered at the intersection of Chain Bridge and Hunter Mill, all within a quarter-mile of my home in Oakton. Four of them — Bank of America (2936 Chain Bridge Rd.), Capital One (2938 Chain Bridge), Wells Fargo (2946 Chain Bridge) and PNC (2964 Chain Bridge) — have moved into the neighborhood within the last two years, displacing a Blockbuster, Appalachian Outfitters (which opened in 1969) and who knows what else. BB&T (2941 Chain Bridge), formerly First Virginia, has been here awhile.
If that doesn’t sate my desire for banking services, I can always take a right on Chain Bridge and drive 2 miles, where I can choose from among seven banks in the mile-long stretch of Maple Ave. between Nutley and Lawyers Rd. In this thriving financial district in Vienna, Virginia, I can open an account or take out a loan at SunTrust (501 Maple), Freedom Bank (502 Chain Bridge), BB&T (415 Maple), Burke & Herbert (302 Maple), United Bank (226 Maple), Bank of America (235 Maple) or HSBC (214 Maple).
And if I’m still not satisfied? Turn right on Nutley and drive another 2 miles to the intersection at Lee Highway in Fairfax, where there are five more banks clustered around the Pan Am Shopping Center: SunTrust (9401 Lee), PNC (3050 Nutley), Wells Fargo (3019 Nutley), Bank of America (3065 Nutley) and Capital One (3095 Nutley).
That’s 17 different bank branches within 3 miles of my front door, and most of them are relatively new tenants located in standalone properties. And that’s not even counting the three 7-Elevens in the same radius where I can access a Citibank ATM, or the Giant or Safeway stores with their PNC and SunTrust mini-branches.
Clearly, this blight on our retail space is one of the many unfortunate consequences of the financialization of America. But that alone doesn’t explain why banks are leasing all of this real estate at the very moment when most information-intensive businesses are abandoning bricks-and-mortar for the internet.
What is going on here?
Richard Karpel blogs at rkarpel.com.