New York Times: A Not-Really-on-Wall-St. Protest, but the Fallout Is Felt There



The man traveled alone, pulling a mask of George Washington — or, at least, the version that is embossed on the front of quarters — over his face.

Victor Blue for The New York Times

Tourists visiting Wall Street took pictures of the New York Stock Exchange.

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“We are occupying Wall Street,” he said grandly in the shadow of the New York Stock Exchange, as pedestrians buzzed past him. “We’re over on Liberty Street.”

Wall Street, you might have heard, is occupied. But not by protesters. The man in the mask is among the many who have made camp a few blocks away, in Zuccotti Park, choosing an open plaza over the highly fortified area around the stock exchange.

Instead, Wall Street is occupied by tourists, banging their shins against the metal barricades that make restaurant entrances barely accessible; by workers, from traders to maintenance men, bouncing like pinballs through the sidewalk traffic on their way to work; and by police horses, leaving their malodorous marks beside bankers’ walking paths — perhaps the demonstration’s most palpable triumph to date.

Even in relative absentia, Occupy Wall Street has created obvious ripples on the actual street it borrows its name from.

Officers said the area had grown particularly clogged in recent weeks, with many visitors asking where the protests can be found. Meanwhile, temporary barricades surround much of Wall and Broad Streets and extend to a handful of neighboring blocks, turning even the shortest of trips into labyrinthine expeditions. Vehicle access in the area is usually limited, but recently even the sidewalk leading to the exchange has been closed to those who do not work on the block.

For Devon Johnson, 33, an elevator maintenance worker in the area, the security has made moving from job to job a staggering physical challenge.

“It’s a big inconvenience,” he said. “We used to be able to go straight through.” Mr. Johnson said he was often required to lug more than 100 pounds of spare parts, wrenches and elevator brakes.

Vincent Alessi, a managing partner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, across the street from the stock exchange, said his lunch business had fallen 50 percent since the protests began. “They’re not hurting the big banks,” he said of the protesters. “They’re hurting me.”

According to residents, several street vendors have also been forced to relocate, their sidewalk spots now occupied by barricades.

Michael Kaplan, 24, a senior vice president at an investment firm near the stock exchange who also lives in the area, said the protests had done little to affect his workday. But some demonstrators’ evening routine — boisterous bar-hopping, with an occasional vuvuzela appearance — has been difficult to tune out. “I feel like I’m sleeping at a soccer game,” he said.

Like many who represent the vilified Wall Street bankers and investors, Mr. Kaplan was ambivalent about the protests. He acknowledged the demonstrators’ right to free speech, but said they had not presented an intelligible message or a firm grasp of personal responsibility. “I’m the same age as these kids,” he said. “I have the same college debt. But I knocked on doors.”

Frank Dinger, 72, the chairman of William H. Sadlier Inc., a publishing company at 14 Wall Street, said the frustrated masses had come to the wrong place. “What role does Wall Street have in creating jobs?” he asked. “It’s an aggravation and an annoyance.”

For Mr. Johnson, the elevator repairman, the protests have been both, but their message has resonated. “It’s our money, and no one benefits but Wall Street,” he said, taking his lunch break on a bench outside a security checkpoint.

And then there are the tourists. While many international sightseers have little interest in the protest’s outcome, the desire to witness an evolving American drama is strong. On Tuesday, as three demonstrators walked silently along Wall Street with anti-banking signs, two officers mounted their horses and rode slowly down the street, keeping an eye on the protesters. Tourists’ cameras tracked the officers’ every move.

By early afternoon, Enrique Villalpando, 36, visiting from Mexico with his wife, appeared to have grown tired of gazing at a heavily secured building on a mostly empty street.

“We thought it was going to be everywhere,” he said of the protests, shrugging. “Do you know where is the famous bull?”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 13, 2011, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: A Not-Really-on-Wall-St. Protest, but Ripples Are Felt, and Even Stepped In, There.