As Iconic Home Savings Signage Comes Down, It’s Business as Usual

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — By the end of next week, the name of the last locally owned downtown financial institution will be gone from the city’s skyline.

In the early morning of July 14, workers from Gardner Signs Inc., Toledo, began removing the letters of the long-standing Home Savings sign from the east and west sides of its tower at 275 W. Federal St. The process of replacing the letters with new Premier Bank signage should be complete by July 24, says Lou Joseph, Premier’s senior vice president real estate owned and maintenance.

Workers will remove the letters from the south face of the tower Wednesday, and will erect a crane to remove the letters from the building’s north face by Monday, Joseph says. Starting either late Monday or Tuesday, workers will begin placing the new Premier signage.

It’s been about 70 years since then Youngstown Mayor Charles Henderson presided over the rooftop light up ceremony of the sign on Aug. 17, 1949. Since then, the Home Savings signage has been a fixture of the Youngstown skyline. For Joseph, who’s been with the bank nearly 18 years, the change is bittersweet.

“It’s certainly sentimental to me,” he says. “I’ve been a part of this building my whole career here. So, I have to say it touches my heart.”

Though it hurts to see the name go, Joseph and Frank Hierro, Premier’s executive vice president and market president for Mahoning Valley, say the new logo and branding provide “a fresh beginning” for the company.

“It’s focused on people. It’s focused on the future,” Hierro says. “We have a great deal of excitement about the future of Premier Bank and our ability to service and work in the community for the next 125 years.”

While Hierro and the staff “love the legacy and the history of our Home Savings institution,” the people are the predominant tie to any financial company, he says.

Although the brand is different, there was “no overlap in our merger of equals,” so there are minimal changes to face-to-face staff, he says. Any staff consolidation mostly occurred among backroom operational areas.

“Our customers are going to deal with the same people they’ve dealt with for many, many years. Their mortgages will be handled by their mortgage loan officer that they know,” Hierro says.

That kind of connection to a bank is what makes the change significant. Home Savings Bank is the last of the locally owned downtown banks in Youngstown, and one of the longest running, says Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Founded in 1889 as the Home Building and Loan Co., the name was later changed to the Home Savings and Loan Co. with the introduction of a new loan plan, according to “History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Vol. 1,” by Joseph G. Butler. Construction of the 10-story Home Savings and Loan building began in 1918, according to the book.

Workers remove letters from the Home Savings signage.

The bell tower and clock – a key feature element of the building – has been part of the company’s brand since 1919, Lawson says. Home Savings and its downtown counterparts, such as Central Savings and Loan Co., Mahoning National Bank and the Dollar Savings & Trust Co., were key to the commercial and residential development of the Youngstown area, he says.

“The buildings are still there as symbols of these financial institutions that have started locally and financed the industrial, commercial and residential development of the city and suburbs throughout the 20th century,” Lawson says.

The Home Savings building in particular is “pure Youngstown,” from the companies that built it and occupied it to the man who designed it – Charles F. Owsley. He and his father, Charles H. Owsley, designed some of the most iconic buildings in the region.

While there are other financial institutions in the region that are still locally owned and operated, such as Cortland Bank and Farmers National Bank, “as far as Youngstown-owned and downtown Youngstown, Home Savings is the last local financial institution,” Lawson says.

“It’s been here for 131 years,” Lawson says. “There will be a period of adjustment.”

When news broke of the name change in April, residents expressed interest in wanting to get a piece of history, Joseph says. Specifically, one of the letters from the sign.

“A lot of folks know this name. It’s been around for so long,” he says. “So we’ve heard from retirees, we’ve heard from the historical society. A lot of folks have interest.”

However, once residents learn the size of the letters, which stand at just over five feet tall, they usually change their mind, he adds. For the time being, the letters will be stored and are being considered for auction as a way to raise money for local charities or the historical society.

Other Home Savings signage will be held for the short term “just to make sure that we can give it a good home,” he says.

And the clock isn’t going anywhere, confirms Joseph.

“When you come down Mahoning Avenue, you’ll still see the clock, When you’re coming from YSU, you’ll still see the clock,” he says. “We’re just changing some letters out. And we’re still that bank.”

The new Premier Bank signage should be installed by the end of next week.

The bank is busy working with its retail and business customers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Hierro says. For customers impacted by COVID-19, either through layoffs or forced shutdowns, “We try to understand what their circumstances are,” and have responded through payment deferments or helping them acquire assistance.

“We were very active in the PPP loan program,” he says. “We offered all of our commercial customers the opportunity to have a principal and/or interest deferment for several months.”

Some businesses are “bouncing back pretty quickly” while others continue to struggle, depending on their industry, according to Hierro.

“The service industry, those where there’s a lot of face-to-face and hand-to-hand contact, those have been very slow to come back,” he says.

For consumers, low-interest rates have “made it a very attractive time” to finance. Mortgage volume and refinancing “are stronger than they’ve been in any recent memory,” he says. In the last few months, consumer loan business has been very good as well, he says.

Hierro attributes some of that growth to residents being home during the stay-at-home order and identifying improvements they want to make to their houses, he says. Others realize they’ll be spending more time at home, so they’re investing in their home, “which often requires some type of a credit or a loan situation,” he says.

“We’ve been able to help a great number,” he says. “The consumer loan business this summer is much stronger than it was last summer.”

Hierro declined to say how much stronger, but confirmed it’s a double-digit percentage increase year-over-year.

In June, the consumer price index increased 0.6% month-over-month, showing inflation is back and up 0.7% year-over-year, up from 0.2% in May. Though inflation is trending upward and stimulus efforts from the federal government may result in “a little bit of inflation” in the short term, Hierro says the economy is going to do well long term and “inflation is well in check.

“I think the Federal Reserve has been doing a very good job of trying to prevent the pandemic from creating a deep, deep recession, or even a depression,” Hierro says. “The interest rate environment that we see is kind of reinforcing that.”

If unemployment remains high, Hierro expects more assistance coming from the federal level, like U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s proposal to provide $120 billion in grants for restaurants, excluding large chains.

“I think that’s a well placed area that needs support,” he says. “So many of those businesses are family-owned small businesses, and they’re having a hard time gaining any momentum because of the reoccurrence [of the virus].”

Pictured at top: While the name and branding is changing, Premier Bank’s Lou Joseph and Frank Hierro say customers can expect the same service and staff they’re used to.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.