Hit by Recession, Cocaine Dealers Resort to Cold-calling

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Photo: iStockphoto

Before condos in Williamsburg started selling at a loss and weekend flights to L.A. dropped to under $200, New York's cocaine dealers were supplying good times to people who indulged like the party wouldn't end. Before the recession, "I was making deliveries every night of the week," says Eddie, a middle-aged man who exclusively deals cocaine. (All names have been changed.) At the height of his career, in early 2008, Eddie sold eight-balls to hipsters, financiers, and Upper West Side high-school students. "Back then, I could afford to pick and choose. If I didn't know the address — forget it. If I didn't like their accent — forget it. On most nights, there were more people wanting than I could get to." Sammy, another coke dealer, was equally aloof. "On weekends, I was making twenty house calls per night," he says, "And there were always 20 to 25 that got shafted."

Then the stock market crashed, and people started losing Sammy’s number. But he didn’t lose theirs. "It was a 646 number," says Nate, 26, who works at an investment bank; he got three calls from Sammy in one week. (Sammy's contacts — five years' worth — are stored in a small black notebook with cross streets, physical descriptors, and even sketches corresponding to each name.) When Nate called back, Sammy picked up right away: "He was like, Hey Nate, it's me, Sammy, where ya been?" Last November, Nate was forced to switch jobs, and took a notable pay cut. "It's not all fun and games anymore. I told him thanks but no thanks."

Damien, 27, who quit doing coke almost two years ago, has been contacted by three different cocaine dealers, all wanting his business, since June. "None of my friends mess with that anymore," Damien says, "It's like they grew up overnight when the banks died." Eddie was one of the dealers who has recently contacted Damien. When demand first dropped, Eddie took a vacation. But when the situation failed to improve, he decided to call every name in his phone book until he'd arranged a deal. "It worked," he says. "I'll keep doing it until it stops working. But I don't like small talk. I don't like having to ask them how their day was."

Having to reach out to customers isn’t the worst of it. "I see high-end guys hawking in parks now," says Sammy. "And these are guys that used to sell to Paris Hilton's crowd." For Tim C., a longtime street dealer whose headquarters are in Washington Square Park, the problem has trickled down. He’s now competing with those guys who used to do deliveries only: "They come in like they own the place, and take all my business." Things have been made worse by the fact that NYU freshman and other passersby are more resistant to his pitch. "These kids are clean," Tim says. "It sucks. You're gonna find me at the post office if this goes on for much longer."