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

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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.

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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.]