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We've been reporting all week on the collapse of Bear Stearns, the country's fifth largest investment bank. Big news on Wall Street, obviously. NPR's Adam Davidson walked down a street in Bear Stearns's neighborhood to find out how what you might call every day people are affected by the company's troubles.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Bear Stearns's collapse has a clear, direct impact on some people. Investors lost billions. A few thousand employees might lose their jobs. I found some of them nervously smoking in front of company headquarters on 47th Street in Manhattan. At least, I assume they're nervous - no Bear staff would talk to me.
Unidentified Man: We're not allowed to talk to the press.
DAVIDSON: You're not allowed to talk to the press?
Unidentified Man: No, you got to talk to our public relations people.
DAVIDSON: Public relations wouldn't talk, either.
The direct impact is a bit broader than just staff and investors.
Mr. GALAL JEAN (Driver): How you doing?
DAVIDSON: I'm doing good. How are you?
Mr. JEAN: Fine, thanks.
DAVIDSON: Is most of your business Bear Stearns?
Mr. JEAN: Yeah.
DAVIDSON: Galal Jean, who goes by Jimmy, is sitting in a black limo in front of Bear Stearns. He's a driver with - real name, here - XYZ Limo. He only drives for Bear Stearns. Two hundred and fifty other drivers at XYZ exclusively work for Bear Stearns. They're all terrified, he says.
Mr. JEAN: Of course. Yeah. Very much. Because we don't know what to do now.
DAVIDSON: He says he's going to send his daughter to a cheaper private school.
In addition to all the people directly impacted by Bear's crisis, there's a broader, indirect impact. Bear's employees make and spend a lot of money. Losing all those high salaries might hurt real estate, luxury goods, bars and restaurants. But how big is that secondary, indirect impact?
I went right across the street from Bear Stearns to a particularly New York institution. It's a Jiannetto's Pizza truck. Jake Tortorello sells pizzas out of a modified bus. Half of his business, he says, is to Bear Stearns workers. But he's not worried.
Mr. JAKE TORTORELLO (Jiannetto's Pizza): I don't think it's going to be crazy, like, a loss, no. You know, within a month, people will start coming out and buying pizza again.
DAVIDSON: If this guy, right across the street, isn't worried, then it's hard to imagine too many other restaurants in the city are. After all, Bear's entire workforce in New York is about 8,000. That's not much in a region with 18 million people.
The impact of Bear Stearns seems to be diffused with every step away from its headquarters. Halfway down the block, I found a stationery store owner who said he wouldn't notice if Bear disappeared. Another half-block, I found three shopkeepers who didn't even know Bear Stearns was in the neighborhood.
I stay on 47th Street and walk another block - to the corner of Sixth Avenue -where I find AA Pawn Shop and its owner, Michael Rubinoff. He says, lately, the pawn business is going great.
Mr. MICHAEL RUBINOFF (Owner, AA Pawn Shop): What can I tell you? It's growing. People need money.
DAVIDSON: The worse the economy is, the better you do.
Mr. RUBINOFF: That's exactly the case, yes.
DAVIDSON: I point out that he gives desperate people credit. And his neighbor, Bear Stearns, collapsed in part because it couldn't get credit when it was desperate.
Mr. RUBINOFF: If Bear Stearns come to me for the loan, I don't think I can afford them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIDSON: We're having fun. But I realize talking to Rubinoff why the Bear Stearns story matters so much. It's not that Bear's problems have a huge direct impact on the economy. It's that Bear's collapse is a sign, a symptom of a larger problem.
Bear was highly leveraged. They had taken big risks and needed a constant inflow of loans just to keep going. It makes sense that they'd be the first big company to collapse when credit started to dry up. The fear is that lots of other businesses will have trouble getting loans.
Rubinoff told me that he has a million-dollar line of credit at two banks. Without that money…
Mr. RUBINOFF: I will be in trouble, like Bear Stearns.
DAVIDSON: If Rubinoff doesn't get credit, then he can't give loans to his customers. They won't be able to pay off their bills.
If what happened to Bear Stearns starts happening more and more - if people and businesses can't get credit…
Mr. RUBINOFF: It's going to be really, really bad. That's what I can tell you.
DAVIDSON: Of course, that's exactly what the Federal Reserve is trying so hard to prevent.
Adam Davidson, NPR News, New York.
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