Fairmount, Illinois. Not Fairmont, Illinois. That was one of the first lessons for the new INB team when buying First National Bank of Fairmount’s charter in 1999.
“We had to have a geography lesson,” reminisces Jim Antonacci, a founding member of INB #2. “We all thought we were talking about a town over near St. Louis. Instead we were talking about a town on the eastern edge of the state.”
When Jim took some colleagues to the location for the first time, they saw a burnt-out bank building as they drove into town. “Luckily, we had bought the bank on the other side of the street,” Jim says.
INB is a major business in Fairmount. It still bears the “First National Bank” sign and is made up of both the original bank building and an adjacent structure once used to host parties and events.
Lenora Jones, a personal banker in Fairmount since 1993, remembers the day Jim walked in the door. “We were all scared. I tell him today he scares me! But he’s such a nice man, and the change was a good thing.” Lenora explains INB brought not only technology to the bank, but new services like certificates of deposit, mortgage loans and debit cards. “Our staff used to work out of drawers! We didn’t have any type of computer system.”
One of the first actions by the INB team was remodeling and expanding the office space. The First National Bank footprint was very small, putting bankers and loan staff in a floor area right outside the teller lines. Things weren’t very private, and Lenora says privacy is very important to people who bank in a small town like Fairmount. “People will come from other nearby towns to bank because they don’t want people in their hometown knowing their business.”
Once the reconstruction was complete, INB Fairmount housed private offices allowing plenty of space for conducting business. But the bank lobby remains a favorite place for the local community to stop by for a visit. Lenora says people don’t come in just to bank . . . they come to socialize. Other than the nearby locally owned hardware store, chain gas station/general store and cement mixing company, the town doesn’t offer a lot in the way of coffee shops or general gathering spots. So people come to the bank, where the coffee is always on.
Lenora says, “We know birthdays, graduations, and illnesses. If you ask someone, ‘Hi. How are you?’ you’ll get the story.” This helps the staff relate to customers on a very personal level. And the customers care about the staff. “When INB bought us, we got calls. ‘Are you guys okay?’” Lenora says if they had said no, the bank would have lost a lot of customers. Today, those same customers continue to look out for the staff. “If someone drives by and doesn’t recognize a car in front of the bank, they will call just to make sure nothing bad is going on.”
Which takes us full circle to one of Jim’s first visits to Fairmount. “A guy came up to me as we were leaving and said, ‘You know you don’t need to lock the doors. I’m always watching.’” Jim replied, “Really?” The gentleman explained that he owned the gun shop across the street and often sat there and just watched.
Today, the gun shop is gone. But Branch Manager Heather McArty says the bank’s small-town charm remains. She points to the “First National Bank” sign on the building’s exterior which takes you back decades. And the dirt floor basement that amazes visitors. The beautiful, big vault that banks don’t build anymore. And clients who pull up on their motorcycles with a full-size American flag flying behind.
Fairmount, Illinois. We’re happy it’s part of our past, present and future.