New York had many economical advantages over its rivals. Merchants found a better and a more extensive and varied market, and liked to combine pleasure with business. New York was emphatically a great city, and it was entirely free from provincialisms of any kind. The narrow notions of smaller places are quickly replaced here with metropolitan and cosmopolitan ideas, tastes and habits. Moreover, the city is the chief centre of wealth, of art, of talent, and of luxury. These things are too firmly secured to be taken away, and strangers must come here to enjoy them. Merchants from other States and cities like the liberal and enterprising spirit which characterizes the dealings of the New York merchants. They can buy here on better terms than elsewhere, and their relations with the merchants of this city are generally satisfactory and pleasant. Besides this, they find their visits here of real benefit to them in their own callings. The energy, or to use an American term, “the push” of New York exhilarates them, and shows them how easily difficulties, which in less enterprising places seem insurmountable, may be overcome. They go back home braced up to their work, and filled with new and larger ideas.
Between ten and fifteen millions of strangers annually visit New York for business and pleasure. All spend large sums of money during their stay, and a very large part of this finds its way into the pockets of the retail dealers of the city. The hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, livery stables, and places of amusement reap large profits from these visitors. Indeed, the whole city is benefited to a very great extent by them, and it thus enjoys a decided advantage over all its rivals.
Everything here gives way to business. The changes in the city are, perhaps, more strictly due to this than to the increase of the population. It is a common saying that “business is rapidly coming up town.” Private neighborhoods disappear every year, and long lines of substantial and elegant warehouses take the places of the comfortable mansions of other days. The lower part of the city is taken up almost exclusively by wholesale and commission houses, and manufactories. The retail men and small dealers are being constantly forced higher up town. A few years ago the section of the city lying between Fourth and Twenty-third streets was almost exclusively a private quarter. Now it is being rapidly invaded by business houses. Broadway has scarcely a residence below the Park. The lower part of Fifth avenue is being swiftly converted into a region of stores and hotels, and residents are being steadily driven out of Washington and Union Squares. Even Madison Square is beginning to feel the change. But a few years ago it was regarded as the highest point that New York would ever reach in its upward growth.
Enterprise, talent, and energy are indispensable to any one who wishes to succeed in business in New York. Fortunes can he made legitimately here quicker than in many other places, but the worker must have patience. Fortune comes slowly everywhere if honestly sought. There is also another quality indispensable to a genuine success. It is honesty and integrity. Sharp practices abound in the city, but those who use them find their road a hard one. No man can acquire a good and steady credit—which credit is of more service to him here than in almost any other place in the world—without establishing a reputation for rigid integrity. The merchants of the city are keen judges of character, and they have no patience with sharpers. They will deal with them only on a strictly cash basis.
The city abounds in instances of the success which has attended honest, patient, and intelligent efforts. John Jacob Astor was a poor butcher’s son. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a boatman. Daniel Drew was a drover. The Harpers and Appletons were printers’ apprentices. A. T. Stewart was an humble, struggling shopkeeper. A well-known financier began by blacking a pair of boots. Opportunities as good as these men ever had are occurring every day. Those who are competent to seize them may do so, and rise to fortune and position.
Many of the colossal fortunes of the city have been created by the rise in the value of real estate. The rapid growth of the city during the past twelve years has greatly increased the value of property in the upper sections. Many persons who but a few years ago were owners of tracts which were simply burdensome by reason of the numerous and heavy assessments upon them, and for which no purchasers could be found, have become very wealthy by the rapid increase in the value of their property. Many persons owning property of this kind sold at a heavy advance during the real estate speculations that succeeded the war. Others leased their lands to parties wishing to build on them. Others still hold on for further improvement. The Astors, A. T. Stewart, Vanderbilt and others have made a large share of their money by their investments in real estate.
A farm near the Central Park, which could not find a purchaser in 1862, when it was offered at a few thousand dollars, sold in 1868 in building lots for almost as many millions.
In 1860 a gentleman purchased a handsome house in a fashionable neighborhood. It was a corner house and fronted on Fifth avenue. He paid $50,000 for it, and spent $25,000 more in fitting up and furnishing it. His friends shook their heads at his extravagance. Since then he has resided in the house, and each year his property has increased in value. In 1869 he was offered nearly $300,000 dollars for the house and furniture, but refused to sell at this price, believing that he would be able in a few years to command a still larger sum.