For the first time in its 121-year-old history, Pontotoc County-based First Choice Bank is expanding beyond its traditional borders.
The bank is converting the former Lifeway Christian Store on North Gloster Street in Tupelo into a full-service branch. Work recently began on the building, which Lifeway vacated in 2019 when the company decided to close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar locations nationwide. The building has stood empty since.
The bank branch is set to open at the end of September or early October, and will also be home to a First Choice Insurance office. About seven people will work in the building.
First Choice President and CEO Shane Clayton said the bank has been looking into expanding into Tupelo and Lee County for some time.
“We have a lot of our customer base already working in Lee County, and we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to provide them our services,” he said.
Clayton said First Choice initially looked into buying vacant property in the Barnes Crossing area but happened to see the Lifeway building become available. The bank bought the building and hired an architect to renovate the facility. The bank will occupy about 4,000 square feet of the space; the remaining 3,000 square feet will remain available for lease.
First Choice changed its name from First National Bank of Pontotoc in 2015 after it dropped its national bank charter and rechartered as a state bank. First National Bank dates back to March 30, 1900, when stockholders met in Pontotoc and organized the Merchants and Farmers Bank.
The bank opened for business on Sept. 1, 1900, in the Salmon and Wilson Store, and earned its national charter on March 12, 1908. The renamed First National Bank of Pontotoc was moved to the new Sawilmon Hotel on Main Street.
In 1997, First National Bank became the property of Pontotoc BancShares Corp, a single bank holding company, and in October 2011, First National opened a full service branch in the town of Ecru.
With two offices in Pontotoc and one in Ecru, First Choice’s total assets have grown to more than $364 million as of Dec. 31 of last year.