The Wintrust bank branch opening was part of the North Lawndale Employment Network’s (NLEN) redevelopment of the building that housed Black-owned Liberty Bank, which closed in 2018. (Igor Studenkov/Staff)

Wintrust Vice President Anthony Scott lives in North Lawndale and knows just how impactful the opening of the bank branch at 111 S. Homan Ave. has been for the community. 

“We’re providing financial services to the marginalized and those who’ve been overlooked by other financial institutions,” he said. “We’re bringing financial services to communities that haven’t had them for 25 years.” 

The branch’s opening was part of the North Lawndale Employment Network’s (NLEN) redevelopment of the building that housed Black-owned Liberty Bank, which closed in 2018. 

The building also includes new office space and job training facilities for the workforce development nonprofit, and the Beelove coffee shop run by NLEN. While the redeveloped building opened in late February 2021, it wasn’t until Sept. 17 that the bank held a formal ribbon-cutting.

Scott and other Wintrust officials said that the branch has been busy for the past two years. They organized workshops for area entrepreneurs, offered loans and financing, and helped residents who would normally face obstacles getting bank accounts. 

Scott said that Wintrust has been putting an increasing emphasis on being “Chicago’s Bank,” and it couldn’t be a true community bank if it didn’t serve all parts of the city.

Black neighborhoods have historically been redlined, which discouraged banks from providing services. Even though redlining is illegal, its legacy lingers. Before Wintrust opened a branch in the community, North Lawndale only had one bank, the PNC bank at 3340 W. Roosevelt Rd.

The 111 S. Homan Ave. space has been used as a bank since the 1970s. The New Orleans-based Liberty Bank acquired it in 2013 and closed the branch in September 2018. It was the last Black-owned bank on the city’s West Side.  

NLEN acquired the building in the spring of 2018. As Austin Weekly News reported at the time, the nonprofit wanted to consolidate its operations, make it easier for residents to access its training programs, and provide a bank for its clients and the community. 

While they originally planned to open in the summer of 2020, the pandemic delayed the timeline. Peter Grivas, a regional manager for Wintrust, said that they didn’t do a ribbon-cutting in February 2021 because they didn’t want to take the spotlight away from NLEN. They were already planning to do a North Lawndale back-to-school event, and they thought it was a good opportunity to highlight what they were doing in the community with a ribbon-cutting. 

“In May 2022, we had a small business summit and we brought together 87 small business owners and we brought in agencies and organizations throughout the City of Chicago,”  Scott said. “We also introduced them to those 87 business owners. They provided [business owners] free services to help them grow and develop.” 

Some of the entities involved in the summit included the Chicago Urban League, North Lawndale’s New Covenant Community Development Corporation and Chicago Forward, among others.

The bank employees go to local schools to teach youth financial literacy. Scott said that Wintrust wanted to create accounts that would be better than what residents might be used to at the currency exchanges, while also being affordable. They don’t charge any fees for debit cards or direct deposits, and there is no minimum balance requirement. For residents who may have bad credit, debt or other “hiccups in their past,” the branch offers “second-chance” accounts. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...