Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 7

Part 7 of 7

Mr. Donald, being a prominent citizen of the town along with being the proprietor of the new brokerage firm, went before the City Council and asked them to change the name of Penny Ante Alley to “Wall Street,” which they did. For a brokerage firm, even one in Orangeburg, SC, that was a far more suitable street address. Last time I drove by, and that was thirty years ago, Penny Ante Alley was still known as Wall Street.

Mr. Donald did not suffer fools, to put it mildly. And people told me he had been thought a bit tough as a businessman when he was a younger man. But I knew him in the last years of his life and he had become a kindly curmudgeon. While he no longer had an ownership interest in the brokerage firm, he had a desk and phone there, and came by everyday for a few hours and that is how I got to know him. He had known and liked my grandfather and we used to talk.

He explained many things to me. Why did the stock market go up? “More people buying than selling.” Why did it go down? “More people selling than buying.” I have always remembered this advice along with, “buy on rumor, sell on news,” a classic Wall Street (in New York) saying.

Mr. Donald was also convinced, as people with money are during any era in American history, that his wealth was being taxed away. “Son,” he told me one day, “if this keeps going like it is (taxes, he meant) people who have been eating steak will be eating hamburger and people who have been eating hamburger will be eating steak.”

Looking south east down Wall Street Orangeburg, SC in November 2007. It was formerly named Penny Ante Alley.

[Image courtesy of the Google Maps Street View.]

Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 6

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When I worked at that small firm, Sims Securities, it was located on Broughton Street just blocks from Russell Street, the main street in Orangeburg, SC. (Four blocks of fine shopping!) Previous to my associations with said firm, it had been founded by Mr. Donald Salley as “Salley Securities,” eventually became “Salley-Sims” and later, after Mr. Donald retired, “Sims Securities.” I’m not related to Mr. Donald but I am related to some of the Salley’s because one of Mr. Donald’s sons by his first marriage, D.D., married Harriet “Pat” Boone, who was a wonderful lady, one of my mother’s best friends, and a cousin as well since her grandfather from Rowesville had married one of my great-great aunts from Rowesville. Got it?

So where does Penny Ante Alley come in? Well sir, and Mr. Donald told me this story himself, seems that in the early 1960s, he had founded Orangeburg’s first stock brokerage firm in an office building located on Penny Ante Alley. This little street had been around awhile. Even in the 1970s, on the side of an old brick building on the Alley, one could still make out the faded sign: “Bryant Livery Stable,” the Bryants being another fine old Orangeburg family.

However, as Mr. Donald told me, the address lacked gravamen for a brokerage firm. Think about it: “Sally and Company, Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, 142 Penny Ante Alley, Orangeburg, SC. ???” Not an address to inspire confidence.

Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 5


As a high school student, I worked for the brokerage firm in my home town. This was before the wirehouses had opened offices in every village and burg in this great country and many small towns, including my own, had a local stock brokerage firm and that was it. That firm was not a member of the New York Stock Exchange but had what was known as a “Corresponding Broker” who was a member and executed our trades.

Henry Sims owned the local brokerage firm. He was a man who was very good to me and the Sims family are one of the fine old families from Orangeburg. He married my first cousin, Nonie, which was his second go ‘round and they had two children. Those children, now both grown into strapping and very cool young men, are my cousins. To be formal about it, they are my first cousins, once removed. (When Southerners sit around and talk, we spend hours discussing who is related to whom and how.)

However, Henry had five children by his first wife, all of whom I knew but they aren’t my cousins, which can lead to endless confusion. One of his children, Cindy, is a faithful reader of my blog which I didn’t know till a few months ago when she emailed me about something. I emailed her back and she emailed me back thinking I had been annoyed by her question. I hadn’t been annoyed in the least I explained to her and we were almost related since her two younger half brothers were my cousins. (Hello Cindy!)

My first cousin, Nonie, if you are following this, owned a travel agency, Travel Incorporated. I worked there after school and in the summer. We had fun and the business was located in my grandfather’s hotel. While talking to a friend on the phone one day she said, “It’s an unusual sort of travel agency. My best agent is fourteen.” That reference being to your servant.

When she married Henry, she sold her travel agency and I went to work at Sims Securities because I had a genuine interest in the financial markets which I still have today.

Hotel Eutaw in Orangeburg, SC. This photo was taken by the SC Historical Register in 1986 when the building was declared of historical significance. Harry Mett’s Hotel Eutaw barbershop was the last shop on the left of the photograph. My cousin, Nonie, later opened her travel agency, Travel Incorporated, in the storefront which has the tacky sign saying “Loans”. If you are familiar with Orangeburg, SC, this photo shows the main facade of the Eutaw which faced Russell Street, the main street in Orangeburg.

Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 3

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I spent most of my six month apprenticeship in New York. There were thirty of us in that training class. Almost all of us were in our late 20s, had been to good schools, and looked nice in navy blue suits. That seemed to be the requirement to get hired along with passing certain personality tests and scoring well on an IQ test. All of us were white except for one black guy.

Those of us from outside the area lived in very nice apartments in Battery Park City. We had a fifteen dollar a day per diem, yes, fifteen dollars, but believe it or not, we could feed ourselves on that amount of money. One of the ways we did it was to go to Chinatown most nights and all put up ten bucks. When eight guys did that, the table got covered in food. That was when I made a major discovery. There are no cats meowing for food outside of Chinese restaurants. They are the food.

During the day, I worked at the firm’s offices on the 109th floor of the Two World Trade Center building. Since I worked on such a high floor, the building swayed so much that the water in the toilet bowls constantly swished back and forth at least an inch or more. It was a long way down from the 109th floor. You had to change elevators three times on your way up and down, like changing planes in Atlanta. I don’t like heights and my palms sweated when I looked out of the windows.

I remember seeing small planes and helicopters flying below me. That’s how far up in the air we were. It was disconcerting and I didn’t like it but the buildings were well built, I thought, and were hardly going to collapse.

View from the World Trade Center’s observation deck in New York on 19 August 1996.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 2

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When I went to work for this wirehouse in the early 1980s, I had to serve a six month apprenticeship before I could sit for my Series 7 or Registered Representative exam, my Blue Sky exam, and other strangely named exams. This was a requirement for new brokers working for member firms of the New York Stock Exchange. So you were not a broker until you served your apprenticeship and passed the exams. Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe had a policy: flunk the exam and you are fired. No one flunked.

One of things you learn during this time, in fact, on the very first day, is one cannot trade on inside information or, more accurately, “non-public, material information.” That is, information which can have a major effect on a stock such as an earnings announcement. Say you are Martha Stewart and you learn from an insider that a public company in which you are an investor is going to issue some bad news on earnings. And you learn this before the information is announced to the public and you sell your stock. That is illegal. Really, really illegal.

When Martha Stewart went on trial for doing this, her defense lawyers never let her take the stand. In my opinion, the reason they didn’t is Martha Stewart was a Shearson stockbroker for 15 years. Believe me, that you can’t trade on inside information is drummed into you during stockbroker training. If her attorney’s had put her on the stand, the prosecution could have produced all the documents she had signed swearing to know and uphold the rules of the exchange and the securities laws. We all had to do this.

A view of the floor of the NYSE from the Member’s Gallery. When I was an apprentice broker we got to go on the floor for about an hour while our floor brokers explained what they did and what everyone else was doing.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Brokerage Days: From Penny Ante Alley to A “Wirehouse” – Part 1

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As a young adult, I worked for a “wirehouse” in Palm Beach, Florida, “wirehouse” being the expression in those days for the large New York brokerage firms. In decades past, these companies had been some of the first to connect all their offices across the country by telegraph and later telephone wires. Hence the term, “wirehouse.” For example, Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith was a wirehouse. (Known in the trade as either Merrill, Mother Merrill, or MLPF&S.) Buffalo Bill and Moosejaw Brokerage Firm in Timbuktu was not a wirehouse.

The firm I worked for, which I refer to by its fictitious name of Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe, had a large office in Palm Beach because of the vast number of rich people who lived there. Unfortunately, all the other wirehouses had offices in Palm Beach, as did all the major New York banks. Each day a fierce battle went on to get clients, usually stealing them from other firms who were trying to steal your clients. One big happy family.

Christian Bale as the deranged stockbroker and serial killer in American Psycho. Many guys I knew in the brokerage business thought this a natural combination.

[Image courtesy of Neoseeker.]

Brokerage Days: Honesty Wasn’t Always the Best Policy

I’m a bluntly honest person. This has often been a hindrance in life. When people ask me what I think about something, I tell them. (I have stopped doing this in many instances. Now I just shrug and say, “that’s a very complex issue.”) But I’m also honest in my business dealings and on my taxes and in my life. I tell social lies, “you don’t look fat,” “what a beautiful child,” “I love your home. What you can do with aluminum foil is amazing.” But I don’t lie other than that.

A trial lawyer I once knew years and years ago told me once that he always advised witnesses to tell the truth. Why? “It’s easier to remember.” And it is.

My deal with my clients was this: “I will tell you everything I know about what you are buying. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff hiding under a rock I don’t know about but I promise to tell you everything I know.” My clients seemed to appreciate this and I steered them clear of all the bad investments the firm offered, which were many and paid the highest commissions.

Before you send me a sprig of a cherry tree to symbolize George Washington’s honesty, I confess I did this for two reasons: first, I’m a terrible liar. I cannot say for certain if I would live my life with such a high level of honesty if I could lie in a convincing way. Second, I have never thought that common, everyday honesty should be thought of as a virtue. It should be a given.

Finally, not to disappoint, but Washington never chopped down a cherry tree as a youth and when queried about it said, “I cannot tell a lie.” This was made up Parson Weems, author of The Life of Washington, published in 1800. Like any author trying to flog his book, Parson Weems traveled round and talked about his works by preaching about the moral lessons contained in his books and then selling the books from the back of his wagon. Is this a great country or what?

He foolishly went along with the advice of his stockbroker and put all of his money into the Greek bonds. 30 Oct 1929, New York, New York, USA – Bankrupt investor Walter Thornton tries to sell his luxury roadster for $100 cash on the streets of New York City following the 1929 stock market crash.

[Image courtesy of the]