As a chillier wind sliced through Brooklyn’s popular corridors last Saturday night, it was hard to imagine by the looks of things that anything was wrong with the economy. On North Sixth Street in Williamsburg, young women with Louis Vuitton bags teetered in Manolo Blahniks on the arms of their white-collared dates. Booze coursed through veins as the music at the nightclub Sea shook passersby with stentorian beats.
But the next day at the sleepy Brooklyn Inn, the 138-year-old Boerum Hill bar frequented by local financial types, The Times’ Sunday business section sat menacingly on the oak bar as Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne” wafted through the air. Two 30-ish JP Morgan employees sat quietly at the bar contemplating the future of the financial industry, fretting a bit about their own jobs.
“Obviously, it trickles down to everybody, it’s unprecedented, I don’t think the full effects have been felt yet,” said one, a Park Slope resident who works in IT for the financial giant. “It’s problematic because I’m as equally qualified as the 50,000 or 100,000 people who have been laid off.”
It was hours before news of the Bush administration’s bailout terms would be announced, but as far as he and his friend, another IT employee from Fort Greene, knew, they were scheduled to work on Monday.
“I think the major effect on Brooklyn is all the job losses,” e-mailed a lifelong Brooklynite who is an executive at a research firm. “All the major banks, brokerages and insurance companies have their back offices in downtown Manhattan. Brooklyn may not be where the top executives or VPs live but a ton of back office employees live in the borough and will be out of jobs.”
If Brooklyn’s financial class is scheduled to take a hit, what of the booming condo development that has slowed in recent months?
“The reversion of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to commercial bank status means a major slash in bonuses, which affect a major part of the NYC economy,” said Kevin Pemberton, a vice president at wealth management firm Neuberger Berman, which, according to its Web site, is operating as usual and “not subject to the bankruptcy proceedings of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.,” which it joined in 2003.
“The fallout of this financial crisis, I think, will cause many individuals to take a really hard look at their savings, their income-to-debt ratio, and think about where they’re getting value in today’s marketplace in terms of either rent or ownership of a home — Brooklyn becomes very attractive in that sense,” continued Mr. Pemberton, who owns a brownstone in Fort Greene, citing the culture, diversity and extra square footage the borough has to offer.
“I am really busy with contracting work, including a condo conversion in Carroll Gardens I just got permits for,” said Dave Edgar, a Park Slope resident who works as a contractor, noting that he hasn’t yet, nor really expects, to take much of a hit from the Wall Street meltdown, though there will be adjustments. “This development is a five-family, but the developer is going to do minimal work to the first four apartments and hold them as rentals until the market changes, finish the one condo, and sell it to reduce debt.”
He added: “A lot of the big developments are like the Titanic and are in the works for years so they cannot just turn on a dime and react to these rapid ups and downs.”
A 23-year-old woman who works in finance and lives in Cobble Hill e-mailed to say, “I do fear losing my job, particularly before my apartment closes, as my deal would fall through. I imagine there are others in Brooklyn that may be in that same situation.”
Working for one of the banks that recently absorbed a huge number of new employees, she had previously made arrangements to purchase a Williamsburg condo.
“Certain neighborhoods are on an upswing,” she said, “which is why I bought in Williamsburg; but the layoffs and slower economy are hurting Brooklyn just like Manhattan. I see the logic of more people fleeing Manhattan prices, but I have noticed that Brooklyn is having trouble, too.” She cited Brooklyn’s seemingly endless stock of new apartments. “In my condo building, the cheapest apartments have all been sold but the higher-end ones are still open.”
“When I first came here [eight years ago], you could actually dictate your terms and now the tables are completely reversed,” said one of the JP Morgan IT guys, back at the Brooklyn Inn. “I can’t see New York going into this huge kind of 1970s-city-going-to-shit type of thing.”
Perhaps he had seen Michael Bloomberg on Meet the Press earlier that morning attempting to allay New Yorkers’ very such fears.
“The mistake that was made in the ’70s,” Mr. Bloomberg had said, “is we stopped policing the streets, we stopped cleaning the streets, we stopped cleaning the graffiti off buildings, we stopped supporting our cultural institutions and building parks and schools and all those kinds of things.We are going to go ahead and continue those things. We may have to stretch out some construction projects, we may have to ask people to do more with less. We may not be able to have the frills at the edge, but we are not going to walk away from our city.”
A few weeks ago, prior to the meltdown, I was at the laundromat when a 20-something man named Kyeem struck up a conversation with me as our clothes soaked inside clunky machines. A security guard at a Manhattan building and lifelong Crown Heights resident, Kyeem told me that he hadn’t seen too much change in the area over the years.
“The only thing that’s changed around here is money,” he told me.
And now it seems the influx of money is bound to change again.
Perhaps faring least well are the neighborhoods of Brooklyn that struggled enough during boom times, and continue to lack amenities and a homeownership base.
Regardless, Mr. Pemberton, the finance executive, said of the spirit of Brooklyn, “I don’t think there’s a day where I walk out of my home and my neighbor across the street or on the subway platform doesn’t ask how it’s going. There is that checkup, which is very much inherent to residents of Brooklyn.”