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The '99ers

The dot-com gold rush lured type-A New Yorkers to San Francisco to seek their fortunes. The bust is bringing them back.

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It's always been beautiful, and except for an occasional earthquake, it's always been a more easygoing place to live than Manhattan. But San Francisco wasn't exactly the best place to be an ambitious young careerist -- until the past few years. Awash in high-paying media and marketing jobs at dynamic (if unfeasible) companies, not to mention a triumphal sense that it was the future, the Bay Area seemed, for a time, the place to have it all.

Then the VCs turned off the taps. With their jobs vanishing but rents not near where they were pre-bubble, a number of New York refugees are trickling back East. Beth Kimmerle spent a year in S.F. before deciding to hit undo. Her job -- developing a shopping area for the Mormon-owned MyFamily.com -- demanded devotional hours without much promise of a big payout: "After a while, I woke up and said, What am I doing? I'm investing in this company that's not going to be around much longer and is run by a bunch of freaks."

So she quit. And, being an East Coast type A, she made a list of things she'd been too busy for and took January off for Golden Gate bike rides and Napa Valley sojourns in a '68 Mercedes. She landed at JFK in early February.

Since then, she's started a company to license art for
T-shirts and mugs and such. She could have done it out there, but New York motivates her: "It's not socially acceptable to be out of work, and that's very stimulating."

"Content producers" are returning as well. Michael Dolan, a former editor at the old Details, moved out West to be executive editor of college-lifestyle site BigWords.com last August. His wife, a freelance writer, followed soon after. "We really loved living there; it was beautiful. It's a big city, but it's relaxed," he says. But when BigWords folded, Dolan surveyed the Bay Area media scene and realized that "for a while, there was opportunity to do writing that was unrelated to Silicon Valley, general-interest-type stuff. But that went away." With Salon and The Industry Standard becoming less ambitious, what was left seemed too techie (or too provincial) for him. Now they're back.

Matt Schwartz moved to San Francisco to work for NextPlanetOver.com, an online comic-book seller (later bought and folded into eHobbies.com). "Six or seven of us went out there," he says. Almost all have returned to New York; he came back last fall. "There's only so long you can stay out there now without getting depressed about what's going on," he says. "If I'm not going to like my job, I might as well come back to New York and not like my job."


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