Reeling and Dealing

Earlier this month, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi tried to put a

number on the economic fallout from the World Trade Center attack, releasing a

report that estimated the loss at somewhere between $90 billion and $105

billion over the next two fiscal years. Of that, $45 billion was for the loss

of the buildings and the future earnings of thousands of victims, and $45

billion to $60 billion for “ongoing costs.”

But even Mr. Hevesi-who produced his report, in part, as a lever

to gain more federal aid more quickly-wasn’t able to identify the full effect

being felt on every city block. His spokesman, David Neustadt, explained the

problem: “It happens that, on one block, 20 people lost their jobs, so the

bodega on that block is in real trouble, whereas on the next block, just out of

chance, no one got laid off, so that bodega is O.K.,” Mr. Neustadt said. “How

do you identify that? I don’t know, but it’s there.” And so are the stories.

The Attorney

Harvey Weitz’s firm, Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek &

Shoot, the Cochran Firm (as in Johnnie … ), is located in the Woolworth

Building at 233 Broadway, where the physical effects of the World Trade

Center’s collapse can be seen and felt every day.

“My office just plain stinks,” said Mr. Weitz, a personal-injury

litigator. And that’s with the windows closed.

Overall, conditions are “intolerable,” he said. Until recently,

the normally slow elevators were running on makeshift generators. The

air-conditioning doesn’t work. Checks coming in couldn’t be deposited because

the local Citibank branch was closed. Phone service is still spotty. On Oct. 8,

one of Mr. Weitz’s clerks was locked in the file room for two hours, in the

dark, when the power suddenly shut off.

And then there’s the stench. Mr. Weitz says he has a perpetual

headache, a metallic taste in his mouth and an electrical smell in his nose.

Employees with asthma or allergies are miserable. Some have chronic nosebleeds;

others wear dust masks at their desks. One secretary had to quit.

But Mr. Weitz called such things “small inconveniences.” What

bothers him more is the loss of business: “We’ve lost a month of incoming

matters, and we’ll never make up the loss.”

For the two weeks after Sept. 11, Mr. Weitz said, “we were, as a

practical matter, out of business.” Since then, the courts and the insurance

companies that are so essential to Mr. Weitz’s income have begun to pick up.

But it’s slow.

Mr. Weitz, who works on contingency, not billable hours, said

he’s had to let go a number of people-clerks and secretaries as well as

attorneys.

Yet, he continued, there’s a new wave of business starting to

roll in. People affected by the attacks have been calling Schneider, Kleinick

“by the dozen,” he said. For now, he’s telling them to wait and see what

compensation the government offers. Except for relatives of the plane

passengers or people working in the World

Trade Center

who were told to return to their offices, he said he will probably encourage

most clients to take the no-fault compensation and not sue-rare advice from a

lawyer in the peronal-injury field for 40 years, he admits.

The Debt Man

“There is a major liquidity problem in the country now,” said

Charles Starace, a debt collector. “Companies are looking for money, because

they don’t want to have to lay off people. The money we collect means

salaries.”

Mr. Starace, 35, who prefers to be called a “recovery

specialist,” has worked for the Bilateral Credit Corporation, a collection

agency based in midtown Manhattan,

for one and a half years. He likes what he does, calling it “the ultimate

backstage pass into American business.”

Since Sept 11, the companies he collects for have changed, he

said.

“Normally, [our clients] tell us to be soft,” Mr. Starace said.

“This month, they have not instructed us to be soft. We’re not going to make a

phone call and leave it at that; now we’re hunting down lawyers in the area.”

He said he takes no pleasure in moving from the “soft

stuff”-phone calls, letters, offers to create reasonable payment plans-to the

“hard stuff”-filing lawsuits, freezing assets, foreclosing on mortgages. But he

will if he has to.

Yet it’s apparently not doing much for Bilateral’s bottom line.

Mr. Starace estimates that Bilateral is down 25 percent on money collected for

the month-at a time when the volume of business coming in has increased.

Instead of being assigned 20 to 30 new accounts (or “decks,” as they’re called)

each day, ranging in amount from $200 to $150,000 and averaging about $1,500,

he’s getting more than 30 new decks a day, often for large amounts of money, he

said. But fewer people are paying-and when they do, they pay less.

Mr. Starace’s boss and the company president, Steve Muller,

thinks this is because debtors really don’t have the money. And he sees a new

dynamic out there.

“Debtors are being more

honest, and collectors are becoming more timid,” Mr. Muller said. “They’re

realizing that the almighty dollar has no value compared to life.”

But Mr. Starace disagrees. He thinks that most debtors are still

avoiding bills for the same old reason-because they think they can get away

without paying them.

“If you don’t have the money, O.K., tell me that and we’ll work

something out together,” he said. “But you’ve got to tell me that. And don’t

ever hang up on me. Oooh, don’t do that.”

The Furniture Saleswoman

In the last few weeks, Melanie Rappaport has spent a lot of time

in her office. A district sales rep for Cort Furniture Rental for five years,

she has always relished knocking on doors, drumming up new business, taking her

portfolio of Cort’s wares wherever she went.

But since Sept. 11, she’s been spending six days a week on the

phone with clients who are scrambling to set up new offices.

“I’m usually never here,” she said. “I like being outside

better.”

Ms. Rappaport’s biggest client is Bank of America, which had

trading floors in the north tower of the World

Trade Center.

By the end of the day on Sept. 11, she got a furniture “panic call”-the first

of many-from Bank of America. Then the Secret Service called. Then FEMA-the

Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has overseen the rescue efforts at

ground zero.

Ms. Rappaport spent a lot of time on the phone to Cort’s

warehouses in Brooklyn and New

Jersey, and to suppliers as far off as California,

to help her clients. “They were like, ‘We need 1,600 of this, 1,600 of that,'”

she said.

As business returns to something like its normal state, Ms.

Rappaport would like to get back in the field. But she knows that with

tightened security in even the least-celebrated office buildings, this will not

be easy.

“You can’t just show up at a building anymore and see who you

need to see without an appointment,” she said. “They won’t let you in. Waiting

on line at the MetLife Building

for 20 minutes? I’m not going to do that.”

The Flower Distributor

On Oct. 1, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St.

John the Divine for the 80 Windows on the World employees lost in the World

Trade Center

attack. The flowers adorning the cathedral’s interior-500 stems of muted blue

delphiniums, white hydrangea and sprays of orchids-were a gift from Bianca

Jaigla, owner of Banchet Bianca Flower Design. Windows on the World had been

Ms. Jaigla’s biggest account.

“We were in there seven days a week. We’re very fortunate our

people didn’t get caught in there that day; they were on the way,” said Ms.

Jaigla. Of the restaurant’s employees, she said quietly, “They were our good

friends.”

Windows on the World also represented approximately 35 percent of

her revenue,  not including the flowers

she regularly provided for private parties held there by Trade

Center tenants like Morgan Stanley

and Cantor Fitzgerald. All in all, about half of Ms. Jaigla’s business was lost

in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

“The day before the attacks, the flowers had come in for Windows

on the World,” Ms. Jaigla recalled. “The flower cooler was full.” That day, she

said, “we tried to give some of them away. Some we sold. Half of them we just

had to throw away.”

The timing of the hit to Ms. Jaigla’s business was particularly

inopportune. For 19 years, the Thai-born Ms. Jaigla had worked out of her Chelsea

studio, running a word-of-mouth business that catered primarily to high-end

clients in the financial industry. Earlier this year, she and her sister,

Pisamai, rented out an expensive space in the meatpacking district, stocked it

with the biggest flower cooler in New York City

and set about launching an exclusive shop, with a room for private parties.

Now, with the shop still a mess of raw beams and drywall, Ms.

Jaigla has struggled to keep her business afloat. Two of her staff have already

been laid off.

The Nanny Service

“We went for two weeks without the phone ringing,” said Cliff

Greenhouse, owner of two nanny agencies. “To add insult to injury, this is our

Christmas season: Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, we normally generate

about 50 percent of our business-nannies go off to college, people are making

changes in their lives.”

Mr. Greenhouse and his

brother, Keith, have run the $2.3 million two-agency business started by their

father-Pavillion Agency in Manhattan and the Nanny Authority in Newark-since 1962. For a business that normally

receives hundreds of calls a week, the last month has been unsettling.

“I think I’m kind of fortunate that I accommodate a very small

percentage of the population, very-high-income people who will always need our

services,” he said. Still, “I’m petrified. I’m always hearing from my mom about

the Depression.”

In the last few days, demand has started to pick up. Yet, said

Mr. Greenhouse, he’s facing another dilemma: nanny flight.

“After Sept. 11, I had at least a dozen nannies saying their

parents want them to come back home. What’s worse, the nannies that we’re

placing are saying they don’t want to come to New York

City …. That’s their dream, normally, to work in the

city. Now they’re requesting Atlanta, Philadelphia, Maryland, southern New

Jersey even-but not close to the city.”

The Charity

Had the Twin Towers

still been standing on Sept. 23, their plaza would have played host to 5,000

cyclists at the start of New York City’s

National Multiple Sclerosis Bike Tour. It would have been a big, colorful

affair, and, just like last year, it was expected to have added $1.5 million to

the society’s coffers.

But the events of Sept. 11 laid waste to those plans. With their

rally point in ruins, M.S. tour organizers had to postpone the event until Oct.

14 and move it to Westchester. And while that’s not Siberia,

no one expects more than 500 cyclists to show up. That will most likely

translate into a loss of more than $1 million in pledges and donations. 

“Losing that means we’ll have to consider cutting services,” said

Carol Kurzig, the executive director of New York City’s

chapter of the National M.S. Society. “We’ll never be able to replace

everything we’re losing from this bike tour.”  

Crises like Ms. Kurzig’s are endemic across the American

nonprofit landscape.  Donations that

would normally go to any number of charitable causes are now flowing into

W.T.C.-related funds. In addition, direct-mail solicitations are largely going

unanswered if they’re not for World Trade

Center victims.

But there’s also a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest

that donors simply haven’t been given the opportunity to give: In the aftermath

of Sept. 11, so many fall fund-raising events-typically the year’s most

lucrative-have been canceled that perspective donors have gone untapped.

Like the M.S. bike tour.

“We cannot regenerate the momentum that we had for the World

Trade Center

ride. Everybody’s all thrown off-base,” said Ted Beyda, who was on track to be

this year’s top fund-raiser. “It’s difficult to get people restarted. Now we’re

stuck betwixt and between.”