Business address gone, ambition intact
A high-finance comeback through bureaucratic detours.
NEW YORK — Ariel Goodman breaks her New York stride just long enough to flick through a rack of T-shirts, two for $15, at a downtown sidewalk sale.
Wearing jeans, she shifts the cloth saddlebag that's slung over her shoulder, then merges back into lower Manhattan's throng.
Ms. Goodman the mid-30s head of her own investment-advisory service and president of a small mutual fund hasn't worn a suit in almost a year.
On this late-summer Tuesday she'll hit a string of government and private agencies, gathering forms for assistance. She knows the route well. By evening, her bag will be heavy.
A new workday wardrobe and routine are only the most apparent of the changes the past year has brought her. Goodman worked in the World Trade Center, and lived in its shadow.
Like many of Sept. 11's small-business survivors, she remains bent on recovery. Like a handful, she is balancing her personal and professional comeback with a heaping measure of advocacy for others who struggle.
"I'm angry now," she says. "And I think that serves me better than being sad or scarred."
* * *
Few published tenant lists reflect the true makeup of the Trade Center's workforce. Hundreds of low-profile businesses, many subletting from primary leaseholders, inhabited pockets of space among the satellites and subsidiaries of giant multinational firms. Tenants of the towers occupied real estate equal to twice the office space of downtown Albany.
Some were providers of basic services, locksmiths and shoe-repair shops clustered on the concourse. Higher up sat firms like Goodman's, filling arcane but important niches.
"On my floor there were easily 20 companies," Goodman says. "Every door had multiple signs on it."
They had in common a Zip Code exclusive to the towers and skyward-straining ambition.
On Sept. 11, Goodman figures she was about six months away from her dream. She'd won a contract that summer to handle the back-office work of another mutual fund. The job would have grossed her more than $300,000 a year, her biggest contract by far, and it had her thinking seriously about finally going mobile keeping a staffed office in the Trade Center but running it largely by laptop. "Probably from some island," she says. "Especially in the winter."
One year later, most thoughts of leisure have been shelved. "I used to visit friends, I used to have great dinners, I used to go to the gym," Goodman says.
Her main occupation now: mopping up from the day her world collapsed. "You know, I would say it's my whole day, every day. I spend just a few hours a day doing real work," Goodman says. "You're always looking for some receipt no one can give you. You're always fighting for something.
"I feel like I'm 18," she says, "and not an authority figure."
* * *
Goodman's fight for credibility began early. Intrigued by an uncle who owned a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, she'd often prod him about his work.
"He would always say to me: 'It's much too complicated for a little girl to understand,' " recalls Goodman, whose resolve to know only deepened.
Goodman opened her first trading account when she was 18; three years later, she had her broker's licenses. By the time she completed her master's in clinical-counseling psychology, she was ready to take Manhattan.
In the '90s she worked as a financial adviser for Prudential Securities, Dreyfus, and A.G. Edwards and Sons. She became Rainbow Fund president in 1997, also picking up contracts with two other financial-services firms and doing some private mutual-fund consulting.
She proved adept at managing all the strands of a thickly braided career.
"I bartered for many things," she says, "sometimes using just my presence and licenses to be at a brokerage firm that needed me, other times my knowledge of back-office work," such as ensuring legal compliance and keeping records.
Goodman loved plotting new career angles, and sharing what she learned.
"She ended up in finance a lot earlier [than I did]," says Nerissa Alexis, a brokerage rating analyst who's known Goodman since high school. "She would put me in touch with people she knew."
To augment her own rise, Goodman needed a big-time address. The World Trade Center had been a shimmering goal since 1995, when she'd taken a tiny apartment with a Twin Towers view at Battery Park City's Gateway Plaza.
When the dotcom bubble burst near the decade's end, it triggered a degree of Trade Center subdivision not seen since the 1993 bombing made many firms reconsider the location. Goodman made her move. In early 2000 she took an office high in Tower 1, the North Tower.
She could finally operate from capitalism's loftiest perch.
"I just loved it, absolutely loved it," says Goodman, whose Westport, Conn., upbringing included Sunday outings to New York. "I felt being on the 87th floor wasn't high enough. I'd love to go upstairs all the time."
The location paid dividends beyond the view. Better clients and contracts began to roll in.
"The cachet is limitless, you really can't define it," Goodman says. "It just makes you more than who you are, it gives you a phenomenal stage."
Then two hijacked airliners made their targeted descents.
* * *
Goodman had not yet left for work. Waylaid by a phone call from her mother, she had just hung up when she heard an explosion she thought might be a fireworks barge on the Hudson. She'd seen one blow before.
She looked out the window, saw smoke coming from Tower 1, 200 yards away, and counted windows to discover the fire was a few floors above her office.
"I was hanging out the window, taking pictures, and then I saw the plane go through Tower 2," she recalls. "And that, I couldn't believe."
Goodman continued to watch. "It must've been about 10, and I turned to one of my neighbors and said, 'You know, I think they're going to fall.' "
She wrapped her parrot in a towel and stuffed important documents into a bag. She took some water and her latest computer records.
"All of a sudden I heard a snap, and I started to see Tower 2 coming," Goodman remembers. "And I slammed the window down and ran to a protected area in my apartment by the door. It came like a big whoosh, like an avalanche."
"Then," she says, "it was pitch black," The terrible sound of falling glass had ceased. Now, the billowing smoke and dust made breathing difficult.
It took about 10 minutes for the light to filter through. Goodman sprinted for the stairs. Debris blocked her building's front doors; rear doors had been wedged shut by shifting walls. So Goodman and her neighbors smashed windows.
They reached a wrought-iron outer gate, chained shut and with a 10-foot-high wall on either side. "Somebody had a pair of bolt cutters," Goodman says.
The lock had just fallen free when Tower 1 went down with a roar.
Goodman and her neighbors surged through the gate, joining the flood of refugees filing past the Museum of Jewish Heritage. As a group, they assumed World War III had begun.
It would be hours before she and six neighbors could board a ferry to New Jersey. Eventually they arrived at the home of a neighbor's friend, from which she could finally call her parents.
While the rest of the group watched TV news, Goodman sat on a terrace, quietly watching the fires across the river.
* * *
Goodman lost associates and one close friend in the attack. It was three weeks before she could confirm the safety of all three of her employees.
Her business decimated and her home a Pompeii of piled ash, she found herself disoriented. "I lost my whole village. Where I went to get my eyeglasses, where I went to buy my clothes. Everything, gone. I didn't know other places. I always walked. If I couldn't walk, I didn't go."
Her social network, which fed her business, was torn. "And then you have to buy everything new. A new telephone, a new computer, a new TV. It was exhausting not to have one thing the same."
A year later, two of Goodman's businesses are dormant. She's not consulting. "[And] I've lost all my personal-brokerage clients," she says. "I haven't put in one trade." The Rainbow Fund and Investor Data Services remain up and running, keeping her solvent.
Goodman remains committed to staying in New York, though it took her until March to get past the feeling that she should leave for someplace she thought would be safer, like Florida.
She works out of a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because her downtown apartment, which she still pays for, was initially condemned.
She says she'll move back to Gateway City only after further clean-up by the Environmental Protection Agency and more rigorous testing. "I don't know why I still water the plants," she says during a visit to the old place, now free of visible dust but with a long-abandoned feel, the bed stripped to its bare blue mattress.
* * *
Goodman's new Midtown outpost brims with life. Two young employees tap away on PCs, pet birds chirp. A large window frames a bustling Hudson River view.
"I had to choose something I felt safe in, and that was right on the water," she says. "I had my little blow-up kayak so I could get across the Hudson" in case of catastrophe.
Her more immediate concerns center on her days in a labyrinth of bureaucracy.
"I've learned more about politics than I ever wanted to know," Goodman pauses. She resents, for example, repeated surveys of her old apartment's square footage, long established.
And it bothers her that she hasn't been allowed to enter Fresh Kills landfill to look for an office safe that held stock certificates. "You want the receipt for the safe? It's at the landfill," she says. "You want the serial number? How many people do you know write down the serial number of their property and [keep] it somewhere else?"
Goodman and many others also bristle at the perception that insurance, public grants, and private donations have former Twin Towers tenants sitting pretty. Many, including Goodman, have received funds from such groups as the Red Cross and Safe Horizon. But there has been no official focus, say several of her former neighbors, on the owners of firms that were, as one puts it, "vaporized."
"After the ones who lost their lives or were injured, the small businesses of ground zero are the most affected group," says Michael Koulouroudis, a Greek immigrant who ran an import-export business with a staff of two from the 33rd floor of Tower 1. "What we got in comparison to what we lost was nothing."
The Empire State Development Corp., whose New York City Economic Development Corp. (EDC) is the main distributor of federal relief money, counters that $500 million in aid remains unclaimed.
Many small firms have been impossible to find and others lost records in the attack now needed to quantify their loss, explains Rosalie Tanaka, an EDC vice president.
As an officer in From the Ground Up, a nonprofit advocacy group she co-founded, Goodman works to bridge the gap. She has recorded radio spots to call attention to the plight of small firms. That has required some personal evolution.
"Ari is very private, and not an activist by nature," says Jeannine Chanes, an attorney and fellow cofounder. "But she is extremely intelligent, capable, and passionate on these issues."
Though Goodman calls herself "a persistent little phone caller," she does her best work in person. " Her tenacity serves her well," Ms. Tanaka says of Goodman. "She's very unusual. I wish I could reach the other ones who don't have a voice."
Goodman, who helped break into apartments in her building last September rescuing pets with the ASPCA likes to open doors: "If I figure out the way the rules are set up, I will share it with our entire group."
Goodman is also sensitive to language issues an Arabic-language dictionary sits among her books and that has been useful in helping the diverse ground zero community. FEMA only recently began publishing information in languages other than English.
She appreciates America's patriotic outpouring since Sept. 11, but she also watches French TV news every night for a perspective other than America's.
"This is definitely an experience that has reshaped who she is," says Ms. Alexis, her friend. "It's a stronger defined self, really, that I've seen."
"There are people in my apartment every day," says Goodman. "I have no privacy, and I love my privacy. [But] I've adjusted remarkably well, I think. I've worked alone for so long, it's actually nice to be working with people for a change."