Cook On Concord: Recent deaths a reminder of an older business era

Business was different in Manchester and New Hampshire in the 1960s and ‘70s. The headquarters of various banks were located every block or so along Elm Street. From north to south, the Manchester Bank (later BankEast) occupied its headquarters at 1100 Elm St.

South of there, first in older offices and then in the newly constructed Hampshire Plaza, the Merchants National Bank and Merchants Savings Bank operated as related entities. (Merchants National was later to become First NH Bank and then be acquired by Citizens Bank. Merchants Savings Bank became Numerica and went out of business, along with several of the other banks mentioned in this article.)

Farther south, the state’s largest banks, the Amoskeag National Bank and Amoskeag Savings Bank, occupied their headquarters at the corner of Hanover and Elm. The Amoskeag Bank went back to the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company days and was the depository for the old Manchester families and cultural institutions. Its trust department was a storehouse of Manchester history.

Up Hanover Street, Manchester Federal Savings and Loan had an office. Elsewhere, Indian Head Bank and the Bank of New Hampshire and its predecessor organizations operated. (Indian Head, after many transitions, now is part of Bank of America and Bank of New Hampshire is part of TD Bank.)

The way of doing business with these institutions was different as well. A recent real estate closing in which I was involved pointed out some differences.

A young couple recently bought a house and received a loan — nothing different about this from what young couples did 30 years ago, other then a few added zeroes. What is startling, however, is the amount of paper involved. At least 30 forms had to be completed, and there was even one that said if the bank forgot a form, the parties agree to sign it later!

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when you wanted a loan, someone referred you to a banker, the banker arranged for a title search, you signed a promissory note and a mortgage, bought the house and went home. The deed, note and mortgage comprised the closing package, and the deal was just as effective as those done with thousands of pages (it seems).

Commercial lending also was different. Commercial bankers knew their customers well, had long-term relationships with them and, often, when a businessman needed additional funds, he called the banker, and the banker said something like, “We’ll put the money in your account today. Come in next week and sign the papers.”

Today, if you have a local banker, you may even have met him or her. Often, however, when you need more money or renewal of a loan, you are likely to get a call from someone in cyberspace or some city in a galaxy far, far away.

All of these things came to mind when two major business figures from the period described passed away.

First, William L. “Bill” Moore of Manchester died in mid-August.

A Manchester native, Bill Moore was a graduate of St. Joseph Boys High School, the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Finance (later New Hampshire College, now Southern New Hampshire University). At college, Moore received instruction from Harry A. B. Shapiro, founder of the institution that was then located over the Palace Fruit on Hanover Street.

After serving in World War II, Moore worked at Merchants National Bank for 41 years. His constant presence at Merchants National Bank in its original building and then on the second floor of Hampshire Plaza was reassuring in a time of great change in Manchester’s commerce.

Moore served on many boards, both professional and charitable, was involved in economic development activities, the March of Dimes, the Heart Fund and Catholic Charities. He worked with other Manchester leaders in the Community Chest, predecessor of the United Way.

Also leaving us in August was William P. Stone, another Manchester native, who was 78 years old.

Stone graduated from Kimball Union Academy and the University of New Hampshire, served in the Korean War and founded a prominent Manchester business, Stone & Michaud Insurance, which he operated for 30 years. Stone & Michaud was the insurance company for a large percentage of Manchester’s businesses during Stone’s tenure.

An active member of the Manchester Country Club, Stone served on various boards as well — notably the aforementioned Merchants National Bank and later First NH Bank and Citizens Bank.

Bill Stone was bright, could be crusty, was always interested and unfailingly inquisitive about what was going on in Manchester.

The banking crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s affected both Bill Moore and Bill Stone and obviously the community in which they made their careers. But it is important to remember how involved men like these two were, what the business environment was like and how strange it would seem if young business and professional people in New Hampshire today could be transported back to a time when Bill Stone and Bill Moore were in their prime and the Manchester economy we know today was evolving.

Two good men and things to think about and remember.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.