FLORENCE, S.C. -- Carolina Bank joined the revitalization effort in Florence’s downtown district with the opening of its headquarters on the corner of West Evans and Irby streets.
A soft opening for the bank headquarters at 185 W. Evans St. was held in December 2018 for the 19,200-square foot building, which cost an estimated $4.5 million.
Carolina Bank, established in 1936 and founded by J. Wesley Beasley in Lamar, now has branches in six counties in northeastern South Carolina.
With a few setbacks along the way, the project took nearly two years to complete. Renovations were started in June 2017.
When Carolina Bank purchased the building, it was only two stories and housed the Art Trail Gallery. The structure was built in 1905 as a three-story building and was first a Masonic Temple, said Jaime Morphis, senior vice president at Carolina Bank. The third floor burned in 1951 and was never replaced. Bo Smith Furniture occupied the building from the 1970s to 2013.
“In order to house our operations, we needed a third floor,” said Vera Herbert, vice president and member of the Beasley family.
Using a picture of the original building as inspiration, the bank went about adding the third floor and restoring the Florence landmark.
The first floor houses the new branch operations and the CB&T wealth management, mortgage loan services and training room. The second floor includes loan, computer and deposit operations. Executive offices and the audit department are located on the third floor, along with a conference room and balcony overlooking the Florence County Judicial Center.
“Getting here was tough,” Morphis said. “We have never been in big cities. We are in the rural areas.”
Morphis said working with a family-owned community bank is nice and has its advantges.
“A need is not always black and white,” he said. “You have to learn the customer and apply our knowledge of finance to help them.”
Morphis said he has worked for the bank for 32 years but is not a family member.
“We are very conservative in our growth,” he said. “We do what we do well.”
He said how you present the product is what sets you apart.
“That is where we are different,” he said.
Morphis said being locally owned and operated with corporate headquarters here has its advantages, because it allows the bank to make decisions other banks can’t.
He said Florence is the bank's largest market, and the move to downtown Florence made good sense.
In addition to Florence, the bank has branches in Darlington, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Marion and Horry counties.
The headquarters was moved to Florence from Darlington, where it had been located on the Darlington Square since 1994.
Morphis said the community has been great in welcoming the bank, especially the downtown.
“We helped start a lot of these businesses,” he said. “Now they don’t have to drive to other branches to do business.”
He said the downtown has a lot of opportunity and promise, and the bank is excited to be a part of that growth.
The bank opening adds approximately 50 employees to downtown.
Morphis said the bank is looking to open three branches in 2019, in Florence, Darlington and Bennettsville.
Morphis said the bank's next area of growth most likely will be toward the beach.