The owner of a small business had complained for weeks about derelicts blocking the entrance to his store in Northwest D.C. He had all but given up hope of receiving help from city officials when he attended a weekly meeting of the Bankers Club of Washington.
Coincidentally, D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner also attended that meeting.
The derelicts reportedly haven't been a problem since Turner and the businessman had a quiet little chat at the meeting.
Another Bankers Club meeting brought together an immigrant who wanted to start a business and a local business broker. Today the immigrant is operating his own business.
Then there is the couple who began dating after sharing business interests at a Bankers Club meeting. They're planning to get married soon.
"We've had two or three real estate sales made as a result of people meeting each other," says Leo M. Bernstein, chairman of Security National Bank and founder of the Bankers Club.
In the six months since the first meeting was held, the Bankers Club of Washington has become something of an institution. Invitations to its weekly meetings are as prized as scalpers' tickets to a sellout show.
A local real estate broker who became curious about "all those well-dressed people" going into the bank at 20th and M Sts. NW every Thursday afternoon found out why and persevered until she received an invitation.
For one hour every Thursday afternoon, Bernstein hosts about 40 persons from all segments of Washington's business and professional community. Over a glass of wine, they describe and report on the status of their respective businesses, exchange ideas and discuss the local and national economies and their impact on business.
The atmosphere at the end is not unlike the floor of an exchange. Business may not be transacted on the spot, but there are indications that the exchanges of business cards in private conversations that culminate the meetings have resulted in several deals being cut.
Other local business officials or companies play host at similar gatherings. But for the most part, those are social affairs or they are generally held for and orchestrated by the District's business power elite when not sponsored by organizations such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
In the case of the Bankers Club of Washington, you are likely to find a cross-section of business and professional people attending the meetings either by invitation for the first time or as regular members.
At the center of it all is Bernstein, who is discussion leader, interviewer, counselor, auctioneer and broker rolled into one.
"Have you been here before?" Bernstein is likely to ask as he acknowledges the presence of a first-time participant. "What business are you in?" he might ask. Or, "How is business these days? You need to talk with -- over here. He's in real estate, too. Maybe you two can get together after the meeting." Or, "What's going to happen to the housing industry?"
And on it goes.
Bernstein developed the concept while he was chairman of Bank of Washington, which merged with Security at the beginning of the year. He has since copyrighted the name of the club.
Bernstein says he is still "trying to perfect the formula" for the Bankers Club forum, which he set up "because I sensed a need for it.
"It was just a thought. People were coming to me for advice and asking if I knew certain people. So I decided to get people together in this forum."
In the Bankers Club, people have a forum "in which they can express their ideas freely," Bernstein emphasizes.
Bernstein has been in business (real estate, savings and loan, banking, hotels) here for 48 years and boasts of knowing most business and professional people in the District. He believes the Bankers Club can be of value to established executives as well as to newcomers.
Among those attending a recent meeting of the Bankers Club were real estate developers and brokers, mortgage bankers, physicians, lawyers and an executive from a supermarket chain.
At today's meeting, the Bankers Club will present an award for valor to Lenny Skutnik III for his dramatic rescue of a passenger from the Air Florida plane that crashed into the 14th Street bridge last week.
Dr. Harry Stein, a cosmetic facial surgeon, found the six meetings he attended "very informative."
"You meet some interesting people, and you find out more about the city's problems," says Stein. "I look upon it as a center for advice."
What's more, "There have been some heated discussions," he continues. "People haven't come just to pat each other on the back."
"I thought it would be a wonderful idea to get local business and professional people together to learn about each other's businesses and problems and about the city," said Bernstein.
Bernstein also believes that a bank should be more than a depository and a lender of funds. "A banker is more than just a man who handles money. Next to a psychiatrist, he fills an emotional need people have--an emotional financial need."
Providing a forum such as the Bankers Club is a bank's "civic duty," he maintains.