The Historic Mechanics And Farmers Bank Gets A Facelift

Mar 2, 2020

James Sills, CEO of M&F Bank, stands in the lobby of the newly renovated downtown branch, which was founded in Durham 113 years ago.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Durham’s “Black Wall Street” doesn't look quite the same. One of the most well-known businesses on Parrish Street recently underwent a facelift, giving the historic Mechanics and Farmers Bank a new look.

A group of prominent African American businessmen in Durham first opened Mechanics and Farmers Bank – known today as M & F – in 1908. A mural of the old bank now covers part of a wall in the bank. The branch's $300,000 renovation includes a new teller pod and ATM machine. 

“Banking is changing very rapidly," said James Sills,  the President and CEO. "We had to make a decision to reinvest back into the community where we have been for 113 years, and present a different image.”

The image of downtown Durham has also changed rapidly, with a steady increase in housing, businesses and visitors. Sills says their downtown Durham branch had not been renovated since the 1960s.

Mechanics and Farmers Bank rolled out the red carpet at their official re-opening on Parrish Street in Durham, February 27, 2020.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

"We want to be a part of the movement, all that's happening down here in downtown Durham," said Sills. "We're the hometown bank. We’re the only community bank here.”        

Sills says the banking industry changes rapidly and M & F had to adapt aesthetically and with new technology. M & F Bank has branches in Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Sills says they invest more than 80% of their deposits back into the communities they serve.

Eboni Harrell of Raleigh liked what she saw at the grand re-opening celebration. Harrell says she stopped by the event to meet people and make contacts that might help her non-profit, "7 Seed Empowerment Group."

"It is very modern and chic, and I love the old artwork from before," said Harrell. "This is amazing and I like the ambiance."

M & F is one of the oldest banks founded by African Americans in the country. In 2016, it celebrated a growth in customers, thanks to a national Black Banking Movement. M & F has assets of approximately $267 million. Investopia.com reports that the largest Black bank in the country is OneUnited Bank in Boston, with assets of $661 million.