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Fifth local firm seeks license to cash checks; Alden site would join 3 in Buffalo, 1 in Falls

A fifth local business has applied for a check-cashing license from state banking regulators, this time in Buffalo's eastern suburbs.

Check Express LLC in Alden is seeking state approval to cash checks for consumers for a fee. If approved, it would join three businesses operating in the City of Buffalo and one applicant in Niagara Falls as the only legally authorized providers of check-cashing services in Western New York.

"I definitely think that there's a need for it," said owner Laura Dulski. I think a lot of people can't deal with traditional banks, and sometimes traditional banks don't accommodate the customer."

The spurt in legal check-cashing comes in the wake of the 2006 Buffalo News series "The High Cost of Being Poor" that explored various financial abuses against low-income people and communities from a range of businesses.

The series exposed a proliferation of illegal check-cashing activity at convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores and other businesses in Buffalo that lacked state licenses and charged far more than was allowed by state law. But at the time, there was only one licensed check-casher in all of Western New York -- Buffalo Check-Cashing at 1325 Jefferson Ave. -- leaving many people with few or no options.

Since then, Western New York Check Services LLC opened up at 675 Fillmore Ave., at the site of the former Save-More Store, while Castleway Financial is now operating at 380 Connecticut St., at the Corner Store. And Regina Check-Cashing Corp. of West Nyack in Rockland County has an application pending with the state to open a check-cashing business in Niagara Falls as Universal Check-Cashing.

Check Express, 13989 Broadway, has been in operation for years, selling lottery tickets, money orders and Western Union wire transfers, as well as gift items. It has also cashed checks for a nominal fee of about $1, which is allowed under state law.

Dulski's parents also used to own the Zoladz gas and service station at the site for 39 years, and routinely cashed checks for their customers as a convenience to them. The family also owns Zoladz Limousine Service, which is separate.

"There were definitely people that would come by my parents before they closed the gas station," Dulski said. "Some of the banks out by my location close at 4 p.m. If you're a blue-collar worker, that's not very accommodating."

After Dulski took over the operation, they shut down the gas station, leaving financial services as the primary business. So Dulski decided to expand and start charging a percentage of the check's face value as the fee.

Under state law, businesses must have a state license to cash checks for a fee, which is currently capped at 1.86 percent of the face value. Otherwise, businesses cannot charge more than 99 cents to cash a check, and only if it's as a courtesy to their customers in the ordinary course of business.

Dulski said that she initially "didn't know you had to have a license to cash checks" but that once she learned the rules, she started the process of applying in 2005, although it has taken six years to get everything together.

"We just got most of the stuff that the Banking Department wants," she said. "It's been a very lengthy process. We're trying to do everything as the state wants it."

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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