When my wife and I moved to the east side of Lansing 13 years ago and began exploring the neighborhood, we were delighted to discover a small, locally owned credit union just a couple of blocks away.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to have our money at a bank or credit union within walking distance?” I asked. My wife agreed, and soon thereafter we opened our first account together at Gabriels Community Credit Union at 1901 E. Michigan Ave.
Gabriels has been our family credit union ever since, with many of the benefits of neighborhood banking, like being on a first-name basis with some of its tellers over the years. So, it was with considerable disappointment that we learned that not only had our little credit union been acquired by MSUFCU, but that the latter was actually going to close the facility.
No more convenient walks to GCCU to deposit or withdraw our funds. No more neighborhood banking.
City Pulse has reported on the acquisition, but I wanted to talk with a few of customers and tellers myself and see if there were others who shared my sentiment.
“You’re not the only person who feels that way,” said Sheridan Scott-Shelton, one of the GCCU tellers remaining at the branch this week. “There are a lot of members who live within walking distance.”
Scott-Shelton, who added that someone in her family who’s a member is “right across the street,” said she was going to continue working for MSUFCU, but she didn’t know which branch. She also didn’t know whether any possible plans had evolved to open a new branch on the east side between Frandor and downtown Lansing, which would otherwise become a bank/credit union “desert” of sorts.
I imagine there are quite a few people who are disheartened about this, not only other eastsiders who have enjoyed Gabriels during some or all of its 67-year history there, but others who have a special affinity for it.
I asked Scott-Shelton about the connection and memberships Gabriels seemed to have forged with a large group of Black first-generation immigrants. She said Patrick, a teller originally from Tanzania, spoke Swahili and French and had been learning Spanish. His command of these languages enabled GCCU to develop a growing base of customers from multiple African and Caribbean countries who were thus able to do their banking in their native tongue, thanks to Patrick (who has not been retained by MSUFCU).
Before I could ask Scott-Shelton (or any customers) any more questions, the MSUFCU staff working there during the transition quietly shut me down. I was asked to move to a waiting area, then “April” from MSUFCU came over and said I would not be able to talk to anyone else at this time, took my number and said that one of their media people would get back with me.
April Clobes, MSUFCU’s president and CEO (and a different April than who spoke to me), has told us previously that it’s not “economically feasible” to keep the GCCU location open for its 2,700 customers and that they are “evaluating several other options for the location that could include an ATM.” MSUFCU has 24 branches, including 14 in Greater Lansing. But only two of them are in Lansing proper. Besides the one downtown on Washington Square (without convenient or free parking), they have a branch on Jolly Road. Meanwhile, MSUFCU has announced plans to open five locations in Chicago this year to serve 2,500 customers there.
Are those customers more important than GCCU’s 2,700 eastside Lansing members?
On the former GCCU website, it states on the “About Us” section that “Being a member of Gabriels Community Credit Union provides you with more than just an ordinary savings account. It provides you with ownership in a not-for-profit institution, owned and managed by and for its members. This results in lower loan rates, higher savings rates, and lower fees on a variety of products and services that you expect to receive from a high-quality financial institution.”
Unfortunately, such a financial institution will no longer exist for eastsiders, and whether anything else will spring up to replace it remains to be seen.
(Steve Underwood, a longtime journalist, is general manager of City Pulse.)
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