Financial Demise in Allendale

Allendale_Palmetto Bank

My first week in Allendale (waaay back in January 2011), I knew I needed a local bank. Where else to go but Allendale County Bank? Seemed fitting.

I walked in the branch in Fairfax, SC one morning, and asked to open account. The bank teller responded, “Ummm. The person who does that isn’t here now. Can you come back later?”

I thought: THE person?! There is ONE person who can do that?!?!

I headed 50 yards down the road and opened an account with Palmetto State Bank. And I’ve been very happy there, and not just because government regulators recently shut down Allendale County Bank.

More Closings

When one looks around Allendale County, the evidences of financial demise are overwhelming. The bank mentioned above (which was founded in 1937) is gone. The only hospital has been struggling financially for years. Two grocery stores have closed in the past year – first the Galaxy Foods in Allendale, and more recently the IGA in Fairfax. (The only remaining grocery store — not counting Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Rite Aid — is the IGA in Allendale.)

Sure, a few businesses have opened up or are planning to, such as the Louis Hornick plant. But many others have shuttered their doors over the decades. Restaurants, besides the mainstay Hardee’s and Subway, open and close regularly. (Two of my favorites – O Taste and See and Latisha’s Diner – closed last fall.)

Causes and Effects

Many people blame Allendale’s financial woes on the construction of I-95 fifty years ago. Yes, the removal of tourism traffic did hurt the local economy. But I think the seeds of decay were present for a hundred years prior. I’ve written about this before, and won’t go into it again here.

Instead of focusing on the causes of financial decline, I keep thinking about how it leaves most Allendale residents hurting. I don’t know the entire stories and causes behind the closing of businesses, but I see many of the physical and emotional effects.

With the Fairfax IGA closed, there is no other place in that town where residents can buy fresh meat and produce. And many of the residents walked to that centralized store, and important consideration in a county that sports the lowest per capita automobile ownership in South Carolina.

Allendale County Hospital is struggling because of a dwindling population. Many have talked about closing this hospital and other hospitals, and combining them into a single multi-county facility. This plan would save money, increase efficiency, and be able to provide higher quality care.

As a former research scientist, I am all for increasing efficiency and effectiveness. But I also see the real need of a local hospital. Allendale has only two primary care physicians in the entire county, and most children go to pediatricians (if they have one at all) that are 30 minutes or more away. (A big reason why Healthy Learners is also needed.)

Mourning vs Madness

But when I look at what happened to Allendale County Bank, my feelings are different. I hear the sadness in what people say, as they mourn the loss of this long-standing institution. And I get that.

But even though I don’t know all the details of what happened to this bank, one thing is certain: this institution had been mismanaged for decades. For 20 years, it scored among the lowest possible rating from Weiss Ratings. Twenty years.

So instead of mourning the loss of this business, perhaps people should be mad at how it’s been run.

Nostalgia (“It’s what we’ve always done.”) and southern cordiality (“Bless your heart”) may warm our hearts, but they can also keep us from noticing problems that can and should be dealt with.

Nostalgia vs Change

I’m not saying that we should ignore nostalgia or feel-good memories. But let’s not worship and cling to the false security we have in our past. And let’s not always jump on the latest fad. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, and the grass you’ve always known may not be as green as you think it is.

Perhaps the reminder for us all is that we need to trust in Jesus, and not cling to our idols of comfort and control. If you tend to love nostalgia, move towards change. If you tend to love new things, remember to honor and learn from the past.

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