Bullish on Wall Street tourism Markets: The country's growing numbers of investors want to see their money at work.

September 14, 1997|By David M. Halbfinger | David M. Halbfinger,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Wall Street is booming, and tourists are flocking to New York in record numbers. Until recently, one apparently had nothing to do with the other.

Yet lower Manhattan is now swarming with camera-carrying tourists, whose brightly colored T-shirts and shorts contrast vividly with the suits and stripes that otherwise abound downtown. That is because, increasingly, these tourists are in town to visit the financial district.

They are making reservations weeks in advance to see the $140 billion in gold ingots stacked in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's vault, posing for pictures in front of the big bronze bull on Broadway and lining up weekdays as early as 8 a.m. to snag one of the 3,000 tickets given away to see the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

New galleries, exhibits

To meet the demand, the Federal Reserve opened a $750,000 visitors' gallery last month. The New York Stock Exchange is finishing a $2 million remodeling of its decades-old tourist center and has extended its hours so that 700,000 people a year can pass through. The American Stock Exchange, which sacrificed its visitors' mezzanine years ago to make way for a new trading floor, is studying ways to build a new one.

Even the obscure New York Mercantile Exchange spent $1 million for an exhibit hall and two public viewing galleries at its new waterside headquarters in Battery Park City.

At the Museum of American Financial History, a small, 10-year-old institution whose one-room exhibits run to 200-year-old bonds and 19th-century stock certificates, a surge in attendance led to a move in April from the cramped space around back where it had paid no rent to the front of the old Standard Oil Building at 26 Broadway.

And Heritage Trails New York, a nonprofit group that gives walking tours of lower Manhattan historic sites, added a weekly World of Finance tour this summer.

The tour, on Wednesday mornings, has been extended indefinitely, said Alexia Lalli, the executive director. It includes a stop outside Delmonico's, which the guide describes as the 19th-century birthplace of the power lunch.

Recently, Mike and Jane Strojny, accountants and financial planners from Biloxi, Miss., devoted a full day to their pilgrimage, stopping at the New York Stock Exchange with their daughter, Jennifer, after seeing the gold vault beneath the Federal Reserve. Mike Strojny said that staring down at the trading floor was as exciting as going to the Statue of Liberty.

"It actually is a place," Jane Strojny marveled after watching the tumult. "It's not telephoned in, it's not computered in. It's sort of like watching history happen."

The financial institutions say they are getting into the tourism business not to make money but to burnish their image.

"The merchandise we sell is there because people want something to take home," said Robert Zito, a spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange, which has a gift shop that sells everything from women's scarves with the exchange's logo to bull-and-bear paperweights. "It's not a profit center by any means."

Tourism and financial officials tick off several explanations for the bull market in bull-market tourism, including the heightened attention the media pays to the Dow Jones industrial average and the popularity of the Stock Market Game, a nationwide stock-picking simulation in which 650,000 schoolchildren now participate.

But basically, they say, it derives from the same phenomenon driving the expansion of the stock market itself: the tens of millions of Americans who have begun investing through mutual funds or Individual Retirement Accounts, pensions and 401(k) plans.

"With the market going as well as it has, and people in the '90s putting their money in a lot of different financial vehicles, they're coming to New York and going downtown to see either where their money is going or where it's coming from," said Stephen J. Morello, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In the block-long line outside the New York Stock Exchange the other day, Sam Harold, 12, a sixth-grader from San Pablo, Calif., said he was in New York to check on his first investment. He bought shares in Hasbro, the toy maker, six months ago, he said, and when he flew to New Jersey to visit his grandmother he asked her to take him to New York so he could watch his money at work. "I just want to see it, to see the stuff that happens on the floor," he said.

Behind Sam and his grandmother were Jake and Jeanne Rosen, evangelical ministers from Creve Coeur, Mo., with their children, Aliza, 11, and Josiah, 13. The Rosens have invested in a college fund for their children, but it was at Josiah's urging that they were visiting the market. "I want to be a stockbroker," he said. "I think it'd be fun."

Other side of story

If authenticity is what tourists want, the new attractions downtown may be lacking, or at least one-sided. Nowhere in the New York Stock Exchange's visitor center, for example, does the word "crash" appear. The terms "robber baron" and "monopoly" are used only in passing at the Financial History Museum's exhibit on the financing of the nation's railroad empires. And the Federal Reserve's exhibits, which portray inflation as a flame-breathing dragon, tend to provide only one answer for every economic quandary: Tighten monetary policy.

Yet reality does present itself, in the form of the gravel-voiced floor traders sucking on cigarettes on the sidewalk next to the line of visitors, and the middle-aged man on the Mercantile Exchange floor who "busted out" as a speculator, according to the guide, and now looks dejected in his lowly role as a clerk.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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