The changing face of Wall Street

Pedestrians walk down Wall Street across from the New York Stock Exchange.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: We tend to throw the phrase Wall Street around as shorthand -- for our financial system, for the economy, for our nest eggs. But what's it actually like be in the place these days? Reporter Sally Herships gives us a taste of what you might find these days in those eight blocks of lower Manhattan.


Michael Douglas: Greed for lack of a better word is good . . .

Sally Herships: Thanks to Gordon Gekko people the world over have a very distinct idea of what Wall Street represents. Karun Palmer, Palbinder Mann, and Susan Carey are in the town from the U.K. They know what they're looking for:

Karun Palmer: Business people in suits and big cars. Porches, Mercedes, BMW's . . .

Palbinder Mann: Limousines.

Susan Carey: Yeah, and people eating lunch at these really classy cafes where they charge a million dollars for a sandwich. And they're still working while they're eating -- the stereotype I guess.

Herships: And what did you see instead?

Carey: Tourists.

Tourists and shoppers -- people going to the gym, running errands, ducking in and out of the Starbucks -- and the Tiffanys that recently opened at number 37. Retail outlets and residential buildings have sprung up on Wall Street as the big financial firms have moved uptown or out of town. And the number of men and women in business suits on the street has declined.

Steve Fraser has written two books on Wall Street's History. He says when people talk about Wall Street they're talking about a place and a concept at the same time.

Steve Fraser: As a metaphor for what American capitalism is all about, both in its worst aspects and in its best, Wall Street will always occupy a pre-eminent place in American life.

Rainu Sharma: I mean Wall Street's going to be Wall Wtreet, you know.

Rainu Sharma works in the area:

Sharma: It's always going to be associated with financial institutes, but in terms of what Wall Street stood for like 20 years ago, it's not the case.

Historian Steve Fraser's not so sure. He says Wall Street's residents may have changed, but its image is intact.

Fraser: There's no place in the world that carries the emotional, political, economic significance in people's minds as does Wall Street.

Put it this way: You can take finance out of Wall Street, but you can't take Wall Street out finance.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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