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American National Bank opens in Centertown

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By John Barnhart

Instead of serving up Chinese food, a late-19th century building on North Bridge Street now offers banking services.

American National Bank opened in Bedford in the building that formerly housed Hunan Restaurant. The restaurant did not reopen after a fire heavily damaged the interior.

According to Scott Carter, the bank's Bedford area manager, Don Owen purchased the building. In order to renovate it, he needed a tenant and suggested that it would be a good place for American National to open a Bedford Branch. The century-old Danville-based bank had already expanded into Lynchburg and Bedford and the Smith Mountain Lake area represented its next logical move.

City cooperation was vital to closing the deal for the Bridge Street location. American National wanted an on site drive-through and the bank was able to make a deal with the city. The city gave up two parking spaces on the bank side of the adjoining parking lot to make room for the drive-through. American National, as it installed curb and gutter, created four parking spaces for the city in exchange.

"The city was easy to work with," Carter said.

It took a lot of work as the building was a burned-out shell. It was structurally sound, however. Carter notes that the brick walls are more than a foot thick.

Carter said that the building, because of its age, creates a historical atmosphere. The renovation work built on this, exposing the interior brick walls. Furnishing, with dark wood and hanging lights, was also chosen to complement the atmosphere. Another feature of the design is that people entering the branch immediately face the tellers. This was done to emphasize the bank's personal touch.

"It's a great, great old building,"Carter said. "It's a great location."

Work started last September and designing the interior layout posed challenges. The interior provided ample space, but it's a long, narrow space. Work also included installing concrete pillars in the basement to reinforce the floors where the vaults would be installed.

Carter has been in banking for 10 years and was already working at Community First in Lynchburg when American National acquired it. His job, now, is to build American National's Bedford business, and Carter knows the community well. He grew up here and graduated from Liberty High School in 1992.

He said that knowing local people helps him a lot in this job. He knows who the contact people in local businesses are and, although many don't know American National, they know him. Carter said that is why the bank selected him for the job.

Carter acknowledged that this is a tough time to open a new bank branch, but added that American National is in a good financial position. American National Bankshares, Inc., the bank's holding company, has $785 million in assets. Its trust and investment services division has $450 million in assets.

"We feel like we have a competitive advantage," Carter said, stating the American National has a personal touch. "We are going to make it obvious to you we want your business."

Carter said that American National is a full-service financial institution with FDIC insured deposits. Along with banking services, the bank offers investment services and insurance.

"We are a complete package," he said.