The headquarters of the Lehman Brothers investment bank on Sixth Avenue in New York City.
The headquarters of the Lehman Brothers investment bank on Sixth Avenue in New York City. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: The shorthand is to say that the collapse of Lehman Brothers is the biggest Wall Street disaster in decades. Which would be right, except that Lehman doesn't really live on Wall Street anymore. Like a lot of other financial firms, Lehman moved out of Lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11th. It has a trading floor in the North Tower that day. A couple of years ago it opened a fancy new building just north of Times Square. It fit right in. Lighted wall displays flashing on and off 24 hours a day That wasn't quite enough to put the building on the official tourist map of New York. But today's events seem to have changed all that. Sally Herships reports.

SALLY HERSHIPS: It's not often that an investment bank gets the kind of attention reserved for rock stars. But the world's press staked out the Lehman Brothers building today. They were joined by throngs of tourists. Lehman employees had to fight their way out to the street.

FEMALE EMPLOYEE 1: It's reminding me of September 11th all over again. People posing in front of, like, ruins that are still smoking. You know it's . . . You know, I understand it's sensational but, you know, it's really disrespectful and it's really insensitive.

This woman along with the other Lehman employees I spoke to didn't want their names on the radio. But all said they were upset by the news that the government let Lehman fail.

MALE EMPLOYEE 1: I wouldn't have even taken the risk. I would have bailed Lehman out. I mean I won't even talk about what we spend in a week in Iraq. But, you know, given the risks involved, this could be a huge mistake.

This employee seemed a little more understanding:

MALE EMPLOYEE 2: This is how the market works. This is how the market works, you know? So everybody was having a party and they were all caught naked. What can you do?

This consultant believes that government sends a message to the markets.

CONSULTANT: Well it felt like they were using Lehman as an example. That's just my


I asked the lehman staffers the question that everyone is asking now: What's next?

Man: I think . . . Get some lunch. Catch our breath . . .

Woman: That's a good question. I don't know. Look for a job?

With thousands of other bankers on the street looking for jobs, they may be looking at a different career all together.

In New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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