Tales from the Valley: The Scene From Buck's

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - As if it were just another Silicon Valley Sunday, Bob Cordaro found himself having to wait for a table at the ever-popular Buck's Restaurant. It was a sign that no matter how much poorer he had become in the past week, life around him continued unchanged. Cordaro, 55, isn't some high-flying venture capitalist or software coder, but one of the thousands in this tech mecca who caught stock-market fever.

A successful brick-and-mortar retailer, he had sold all of his businesses, "including a coffee-roasting chain, a packaging company and clothing stores," to put almost all of his money into the market last November. Everything that he put into the market, he put into high-tech companies. In the short run, the crash had cost Cordaro dearly. His portfolio had been up 46 percent a few weeks ago. Then last week he was selling his stocks as fast as he could, trying to keep some profits before his gains vanished entirely. By the end of Friday, he was up only 4 percent. "I felt absolute panic," he admits. "I was on the phone every day for hand-holding with my broker."

Yet the crash didn't stop Cordaro from renting out his Half Moon Bay home at the end of last week, for "above the price he had been aiming for," to a dot-com CEO who had just completed a round of private financing. And the sudden turn in his fortunes didn't change his plans to spend the next six months on a cross-country trip in a brand-new motor home. In fact, the sudden bear market hasn't even entirely changed Cordaro's feelings about investing. "Where else are you going to put the money?" he asks. Sure, he plans to stay away from Internet startups that show no signs of making a profit in the near future, but he isn't about to give up on tech stocks altogether.

"I'm going back in, as soon as it hits bottom,'' Cordaro says, noting that this time, he'll focus his buying on blue-chip Nasdaq companies like Cisco, EMC and Sun Microsystems. The big dip also gave off smaller ripples. A waiter at Buck's said his tips had dropped a little, the last two weeks, from the usual 20 percent, and that the wait on Sunday was only half as long as usual. Another customer - Donna Camera, the 55-year-old finance manager of a photography store - said that she and her husband, a teacher, had lost $200,000. The loss meant they'd have to spend a few more years working before they could retire. A pharmacist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation summed up the philosophical approach most people were taking. There hadn't "been a run on suicide pills," he said.

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