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Medford's Charles Schwab & Co. goes from one to four brokers as its client base expands; now the company plans to boost its quarters

The Medford office of Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., has quietly expanded its client base in Southern Oregon and three Northern California counties.

When Schwab opened next to Blockbuster Video on the southeast corner of Biddle and McAndrews roads in 1996, it was a one-broker show.

Now there are four in the 1,100-square-foot office and there's just not enough elbow room for brokers and clients. Workers began digging into the adjacent parking area in mid-July in preparation for construction that will nearly triple Schwab's office space to 3,100 square feet.

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— — Robert Trotta of Batzer Inc. nails plywood to a — — wall on Tuesday for an addition to the Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. office at Biddle and — — McAndrews roads. When finished in late September, the expansion will roughly triple the size — — of the office, which currently houses four brokers. — — — — —

We've been talking about it for the last three years, branch manager Bruce Garetto said. Our business continues to grow and we've literally got four people crammed in here. We tried to find acceptable space i other locations. But this is such an ideal location.

Batzer Construction is building the exterior shell, which should be done by Sept. 21. Garetto wasn't sure when the interior work would be done.

Robert McLellan bought the corner lot that formerly housed an Arco service station 11 years ago. Blockbuster has been a tenant for 10 years. U.S. Cellular was in the office now filled by Schwab for five years before outgrowing the site.

There's going to be room for 10 brokers, McLellan said.

When the project is completed, brokers will have private offices. Schwab brokers share advice with clients, but don't manage portfolios.

The local office — one of 434 in the United States — serves 10,000 accounts valued at more than $900 million, nearly double the business from three years ago when Garetto arrived after stints in Denver and San Francisco. Many clients have more than one account and may trade without consulting the local brokerage.

The demand locally has gone up for several reasons. Some of it is population growth and some is related to the downturn in the market after hitting its historic high a couple of years ago. Investors think they can do as well as portfolio managers — with a little help.

We've learned to buy things, rather than to be sold things, said Carol Nemec, an associate professor at Southern Oregon University who earned her Ph.D. in finance at Southern Illinois University. People have a new level of awareness, whether it's tires, cars, houses — there is a little more horse sense. They want to work with an expert rather than you the expert telling me.

That fits the Schwab profile. The discount broker is one of the nation's largest financial institutions with 7.7 million active accounts with $858.3 billion in client assets. It developed its niche by attracting self-directed investors and charging flat fees for trades rather than commissions. The standard fee up through 1,000 shares is $29.95 or — cents per share for trades of more than 1,000 shares.

Nationally, Schwab tends to attract a clientele of baby boomers. In Medford, however, many customers have moved from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle or Portland.

People that come to us know what their goals are and want to have a more hands-on approach, Garetto said. They tend to stay the course when things go bad. They know that's part of investing.

Schwab's first Medford office opened on Hawthorne Street in June of 1991 and was one of 20 opened that year by the San Francisco-based firm. The company had more than 2,000 accounts in the region with more than $25 million in assets at the time.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven