Yes, We Take Euros: Riding a Currency Shift
Billy Leroy has some strange items in his antiques store on Houston Street in Manhattan. A stuffed baboon. A fortune teller booth. A wall-sized painting of Hannibal Lecter.
But it's a hand-lettered sign near the door that reads "Euros Only" that's getting all the attention.
In a country dismayed by the plunging American dollar, that sign could well make this store famous. With the value of the euro above $1.50 for the first time, New York looks like a giant fire-sale for Europeans.
In the mornings, foreign tourists line up outside of stores on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, empty bags at the ready. Leroy is trying in his small way to even the international finance playing field.
The sign went up a few months ago after he returned from an unsuccessful buying trip to France.
"I couldn't buy any antiques at all," Leroy says. "It was impossible to buy something there and re-sell it in America because it's 50 percent more."
Leroy wanted to stockpile a few euros for his next trip and came up with the sign. It was spotted by The Villager, a neighborhood newspaper, and then covered by Reuters and CNN. Next thing he knew, a picture of his handmade sign was flashed around the world.
And it's been a great promotion. Last weekend, 50 percent of his customers were Europeans. But not everyone is happy with him thumbing his nose at the American dollar.
"I got hate mail saying it's un-American. I wrote back and said 'On the contrary, it's very American. I'm adapting to the times,' " Leroy says.
Leroy admits that he still takes dollars. And he says he isn't exactly cornering the international currency markets. He has only stockpiled about $1,500 in euros. But that's money he doesn't have to exchange on his next trip to France.
Although the sign has attracted attention and sealed a few sales, Billy's Antiques & Props isn't unique in New York.
On a short stroll down 47th street in the Diamond District, an informal survey concludes that about half the stores would accept euros at the right exchange rate.
And that's the key. At a hot dog stand in Times Square, Mohammed Baheladeen initially turned up his nose at a 5 euro note. Then he made me an offer: two hot dogs and a soda. At the current exchange rate, the lunch would cost $7.50, twice the normal price.
Even in euros, the American profit motive is alive and well.
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