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A LOOK BACK: Christmas Clubs Promoted Holiday Savings

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Pictured is Citizens Bank at the corner Main and North Buffalo Streets around 1911.  The building was originally built as the First National Bank of Springville in the 1883.  The old First National Bank was dissolved and the Citizens Bank took over the building in 1902.   This Citizens Bank is not to be confused with the larger chain Citizens Bank in Tops Supermarket.   The old Citizens Bank was a local bank; its depositors and the board were comprised of local businessman. The bank was known offering loans and building up Springville’s manufacturing base as well as its Christmas Club.   In 1927, at its Silver anniversary, it claimed to have financed Winsmith, the Canning Factory, Smith and Smith Manufacturing, Walling Brothers and many more.  The building was razed in 1935 to build the new yellow brick structure that still stands today as the Springville Municipal Office Building.  (If you walk by the village offices in the back of the building and look up, you can still see the vault alarm.)   The bank itself was sold to Marine Midland in 1956.  Marine Midland then built the new structure on Buffalo Street before being bought by HSBC, and is now Community Bank.

By Derek M. Otto

Do you have the Black Friday blues?  This is that horrible feeling that you spent too much on holiday shopping or even worse, charged way too much on your credit card.  This syndrome could also be caused by the reality you had not put enough away.  In the last century, banks tried to help customers by creating Christmas club accounts.

By the 1900s, Christmas shopping was really starting to flourish in American cities.  To help customers better prepare for the holiday, the treasurer of the Carlisle Trust Company in Carlisle, PA started a Christmas Club to help people save for the holiday.  This first Christmas club in America grew to have 350 patrons and each saved about $28.  The money was dispersed on Dec. 1.

The concept didn’t spread readily.  Neither the bankers nor the customers were going to make money; the interest was zero or very small.  The small savings accounts were more or less safe guards for the money.

What changed in America was the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent run on the banks in the early 1930s.  During the 1930s, a larger group of American banks began to offer Christmas Club accounts to consumers. Customers also saw the advantage of putting away the money.  The financial times were unpredictable.  Banks saw the accounts as a way to help customers put trust back into the banks. The small accounts could be opened for as little as a dollar and small deposits would be accepted, as little as twenty-five cents.  The goal was to help consumers put away enough for Christmas shopping and other festivities.   In general, the clubs were geared toward housewives. The real success of the clubs came in their ability to teach and attract children to open savings accounts.   

In Springville, the Citizen’s Bank was one of only two banks in Springville. The Citizen’s Bank was the known for its Christmas Club.  Throughout the year its advertisements in the local newspapers reminded its readers to join the Christmas Club.  The best ads, though, were in the midst of the Christmas shopping season. The ads would say “Make Next Year’s Christmas Merrier Than Ever, join our Christmas Club.”   They really tried to cure the Black Friday Blues!    

Many of the stores in Springville realize that by Nov. 1, many customers had a large sum of money to spend.  Children made up a sizeable portion of this group.  On the days after Thanksgiving, many stores in Springville had small tables and displays of goods designed for children to buy gifts for parents, friends and teachers.   Not to mention, after the annual tree lighting, stores in Springville stayed open later on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  The Christmas Club at Citizen’s Bank made it merrier for all those involved.

Christmas clubs would reach their peak in the 1970s.  Though Christmas clubs still exist in some banks and credit unions, they really declined by the end of the 1970s.  Big block stores, such as Ames in Springville, offered Lay-Away programs on merchandise.  Customers benefited by slowly paying off goods they already saw and chose.  Stores took advantage because Lay-Away guaranteed a specific customer’s business.  Banks saw the decline of the small deposits once made, that were now going directly to the stores.   A bigger and better solution came when credit cards offered banks more money.   Today, most stores accept credit cards and larger ones have their own store card.

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