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We’ve Found the Green Shoots—in an Old Bank?

What do you do with a former bank branch?

Commercial Real Estate
Photo by: Nathan Guy
Commercial Real Estate

With 100 banks shut down this year and counting— the commercial real-estate market is littered with former banks. In fact, CB Richard Ellis is currently running an ad in the Wall Street Journal to try to move former bank branches in Atlanta.

Branches that are in a prime location may get scooped up by other banks, but in this economy, that’s not a guarantee.

“Banks are a lot choosier these days,” said Mark Bennison of Trillium Realty Advisors, which is currently listing a bank back-office location in western New Jersey.

So, real-estate agents are being forced to get creative on how to market the spaces.

Banks have been converted into all sorts of businesses, from pizza parlors to bars, hotels, event spaces and retail stores.

In Skowhegan, Maine, Michael Hunt and Matthew DuBois decided to acknowledge their location’s banking roots when they opened a bakery in a former bank building, calling it “The Bankery.” But oh, they didn’t stop there. They've preserved a lot of the original bankiness of the place, displaying vintage ads, safety-deposit boxes and other "nostalgic memorabilia" from the bank.

And — wait for it — their tagline is: “A Deposit at The Bankery is sure to yield a sweet return!”

Source: thebankerycakes.com

You knew with a name like that they would leave no pun unturned.

In Milwaukee, Wis., a former bank was turned into a museum by the historical society but was briefly turned back into a bank, Hollywood-style, for the Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies” about 1930s gangsters.

Bennison said there are a variety of factors you must consider, including zoning laws and location. If it’s a heavily-trafficked location, you might market it for a retail store. If it’s not, maybe a doctor’s office, daycare facility or law firm.

Their listing for the bank office in New Jersey says “allowed uses include retail, banking and funeral homes.”

Using a bank for a funeral home may sound a bit macabre but hey, even in death you need real estate. In fact, one Chicago bank was converted into a casket-liner company and later a real-estate office.

Completing the circle of life, one bank in hard-hit Petaluma, Calif., is now a SEED bank for heirloom fruits and vegetables such as carrots, squash, melons and beets. And, it’s a pretty smart business to be in right now: Whether for economic or environmental reasons, a lot of people — even the Obamas — are looking to grow their own vegetables right now.

Don’t be surprised if you see a bank-turned-seed bank pop up in your town: Owner Jeremiah Gettle says he’s looking to open seed banks in other cities — and he favors historic buildings.

Yeah, we’ve got your green shoots right here!

More From CNBC.com:

Bank Stocks Today:

  • Bank of America
  • Citigroup
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Wells Fargo
  • PNC Financial Services



    Questions? Comments? Write toponyblog@cnbc.com .

Cindy Perman
Cindy PermanCNBC.com Commentary Editor
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