Merchants & Marine Bank (M&M) has been a stable fixture of the Jackson County business community for a long time. Last week, the bank celebrated 75 years of service and officially opening its new $7-million facility in downtown Pascagoula. The bank was founded in 1932 with two employees and $25,000 in assets. It has grown to more than $500 million in assets and 150 employees.
Commitment to customers and the community is the secret to the bank’s stability, president and CEO Royce Cumbest said.
“A community bank has value, especially since we’ve seen a lot of mergers and acquisitions with banks,” he said. “If all you ever need from a bank is a checking account or an automobile loan, all banks are the same. But, if you need business advice, community bankers will sit down and give you counsel. We don’t fax our loan applications way off somewhere. The decisions are made here.”
‘On the spot’
Rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has brought that point home, he added, “There’s a tremendous advantage to being local and on the spot to make decisions. The need to do that was put under the microscope after Katrina.”
Jerry St Pé, a member of the bank’s board of directors, said, “The key to the bank’s longevity is three things: service, service and service. The bank prides itself on being hometown people that we know. M&M Bank will continue to provide service and be engaged in this community.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony and open house October 12 celebrated the anniversary and the bank’s return to downtown. City leaders welcomed the facility with words of praise.
Joe Stout’s family has been in business in downtown Pascagoula since 1923 when they started Brumfield’s Department Store, which they operated for many years. He now owns and operates Bargain Annex and is president of the Main Street Association.
“When the bank revealed what they were going to do, it was the buzz,” he said. “The fact they chose to stay downtown is a major statement that this area will be vital for a long time. They could have built anywhere.”
Bargain Annex opened in March after being closed eight months from storm damage. Stout said every month, business is better than the month before. The family also owns 14 other properties downtown, 12 of which have been refurbished and rented since Katrina. He feels having the bank’s headquarters downtown will keep the area moving forward.
“Any time you have a financial institution in the heart of the business distinct, it will draw customers who will probably stay downtown and shop,” he said. “Having them down here is the lifeblood.”
City manager Kay Kell said the city has made a big commitment to downtown and can’t be successful without private investment in the district. “What the bank is bringing here is priceless and will help revitalize the area,” she said.“It will encourage other businesses to locate downtown and it sets the standard.”
That standard was set high with the bank’s 41,000-square-foot French Colonial-style building featuring porches, balconies, wrought iron and an environmentally pleasing parking area. A 40,000-square-foot park and gazebo fronting the building adds beauty and green space to downtown.
“We’re excited about the public space and using that,” Kell said. “I attended a catered dinner in their dining room on the second floor and walked out on the balcony. It’s a beautiful scene with the river in the background.”
Cumbest agreed that it’s good to be back downtown. “It’s like going home,” he said. “Getting everybody back under one roof after being scattered in four different locations makes things run a lot smoother.”
The architect for the new facility was Roger Pryor and the contractor was Fletcher Construction, a locally owned company. Total cost of construction was $7 million.
“We’re fortunate we had the contract before Katrina. We lost three months’ construction work, but the storm expedited the work flow because we took down the old building earlier than planned and didn’t have to work around it,” Cumbest said. “We’ve invested a lot of money into the future of downtown Pascagoula, but it was one of the best decisions we could make.”
St Pé said the opening of the new facility is nostalgic for him as he recalls the old building opening on the same site about the time he moved to Pascagoula 50 years ago as a young newspaper reporter.
“It’s coming full circle, and it’s not just a new facility downtown — it was done as a true centerpiece,” he said. “It adds so much and has already influenced several other buildings and businesses. M&M Bank has significantly elevated the standards.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.