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Overdrawn

Is the bank-branch boom going bust?

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A combination of economic uncertainty and having gobbled up every conceivable location will finally slow the tide of new bank branches engulfing the city. Since 2000, banks have added 338 branches here, a 27 percent increase to 1,552 altogether, according to a recent study by Representative Anthony Weiner. Banks have become an inescapable, if not particularly lively, retail force, taking over the former locations of city stalwarts like Coliseum Books and the 2nd Avenue Deli. But real-estate brokers now see less demand for new space from their banking clients. “The banks’ expansion programs were starting to slow down coming into 2007, because basically we’re hitting saturation,” says Gene Spiegelman, an executive director at Cushman & Wakefield.

And the mortgage meltdown is only making things worse. With huge write-downs on the balance sheets, banks have less money to spend on branch expansion. But will it go into reverse, as it did between 1995 to 2000, when the city saw a nearly 12 percent decline in branches? Possibly. “When you look at banks that are already suffering because of subprime mess in their cost structure,” says Marisa Manley, a real-estate consultant and broker. “That could cause them to jettison some of these branches.” Or as Chase spokesman Tom Kelly put it, “We think there may be too many branches in New York. But we’re sure there are not too many Chase branches.”

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