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Bank On It

Banking in a shipping container could present many challenges, but Blue Sky Bank has flourished in The Boxyard, building relationships with businesses and employees downtown.

Blayklee Buchanan
Marc Rains
June 28, 2018

The boxcar and shipping container began revolutionizing the freight industry in the 1830s. Now, less than 200 years later, the storage units are being used to build houses, shopping complexes and restaurants. Though not its original use, the recycled architecture is growing in popularity every year.

Just east of downtown Tulsa, you’ll find The Boxyard, home of local stores, food spots, a barber shop and, nested in the southeast corner of the complex, a bank.

Blue Sky Bank, formerly Citizens Bank of Oklahoma before 2016, was first chartered in 1905 in Osage County. After many years and name changes, the bank came to midtown Tulsa in 2004, and last year, Blue Sky Bank opened their newest location at The Boxyard.

Banking in a shipping container could present many challenges. There’s limited space, so every inch has to be planned to the last detail. There’s no running water (only in the boxcars that serve food and the barber shop). The space is narrow and long.

You know how there are shotgun houses and shotgun kitchens? You could call Blue Sky’s downtown branch a ‘shotgun bank.’ It’s two shipping containers wide, and it sits at the southwest corner of The Boxyard, making it one of the few spaces at the shopping center with external windows.

“We opened [a location] at The Boxyard to appeal to different groups and have a broader presence. It was an opportunity that presented itself to us,” says Jane Adler, senior vice president.

Sarah Rushing, Crystal Barnett and Alex Frohlich. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Sarah Rushing, Crystal Barnett and Alex Frohlich. (Photo: Marc Rains)

Adler also says she’s noticed more name recognition since opening The Boxyard location.

“[Business] has picked up since we’ve been here. We’ve been building relationships with businesses downtown. A lot of their employees have started banking with us as well,” says branch manager Sarah Rushing.

The metal walls and glass windows, doors and dividers provide mixed media for the space, which is bright and open — not necessarily what you might expect in a freight container. A teller greets you from behind the glass immediately to the right when you walk inside. Paintings hanging on the wall to the left, rich with color and texture, capture the attention of the room.

This art is changed every quarter of the year, says Rushing.

Blue Sky makes an effort to be involved in the community, specifically the arts. The first round of work they had on display was from the Tulsa Girls Art School.

They also supplied water to the vendors at the Blue Dome Arts Festival in May, says Adler.

Beyond the stretch of colorful canvases is a waiting area with sleek cushioned benches against the wall, making the space flow freely. Before reaching the back wall, right in front of an air conditioning unit is branch operations lead Crystal Barnett’s desk.

Besides being the only Tulsa bank in a boxcar, Blue Sky is unique in other ways, as well. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Besides being the only Tulsa bank in a boxcar, Blue Sky is unique in other ways, as well. (Photo: Marc Rains)

A variety of glass decor is displayed on shelves in the conference room just feet away. Sunlight pours into the room from the window, and there’s a noticeable difference in temperature between the conference room and just outside in front of Barnett’s desk. The natural light goes a long way, especially with the crisp white walls.

Outside is an ATM, one of the only in the area that you can access without going inside a business. If you bank with Blue Sky that ATM can make deposits for you, as well.

“People are starting to come down here more now that they know,” Adler says.

“The restaurants helped a lot,” Rushing adds.

Besides being the only Tulsa bank in a boxcar, Blue Sky is unique in other ways, as well. When people wonder what’s different about Blue Sky, Rushing tells them it all boils down to one key thing: “We’re locally owned.”

“We get to see our customers. We know their businesses. We go to their businesses,” Rushing says. “The relationships we build become important to our customers as well. We have customers that drop in to The Boxyard just to grab a cup of coffee and catch up like old friends. Earlier this year, we had a need for our floating teller, Crystal [Barnett], to work at our 41st Street branch for a few weeks and there was nearly an uproar at The Boxyard. She’s been at The Boxyard branch since the day it opened and knows every customer who walks in the door. Needless to say, everyone was very excited about her promotion to branch operations lead and permanent return to The Boxyard in June.”

The principal owners of Blue Sky, Gentner and Wendy Drummond, are no strangers to the area, and Rushing says they’re very supportive of small and local businesses, as well as establishing businesses. Gentner, a decorated combat pilot in Operation Desert Storm, has a law office in midtown, and is running for State Attorney General.

“We have this, the Blue Sky Way,” she says. “Every employee has a booklet outlining the mission and values of the company, such as work hard and be the best you can be and make your handshake matter.

“We didn’t just change our name; we’re changing our culture. The Blue Sky Way is about being the best version of ourselves in order to build strong relationships with our customers. We don’t treat our customers like account numbers. It’s important to us to get to know our customers as people. We strive to truly understand their individual banking needs in order to create the best financial solutions for them.” 

Blue Sky Bank
The Boxyard | 502 E. 3rd St., | Unit 1 | Tulsa
Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Other Branch Locations:
3353 E. 41st St. | Tulsa

101 E. 8th St. | Pawhuska

400 N. Broadway | Cleveland