Valerie Austin, socialite, reporting from South Florida

Date: 02 Jan 2009


“Here I am in Madoff country, home to the man who allegedly swindled some of the wealthiest people in Palm Beach. Losses have been primarily wealthy members of the Jewish community who were also patrons of the arts which will have a negative impact on the cultural world in South Florida. Normally a place where the rich get richer and the poor, well… they just enjoy the weather. I’ve lived here each winter for six years and still can’t get over the sun shining ninety percent of the time and eating out in warm winter evenings. I also feel a bit smug watching the television showing the arctic weather almost everywhere else. But not everything is rosy in this idyllic playground for the rich and famous. Every party I’ve attended in Palm Beach there is someone who has fallen victim to Madoff. One fellow I met said he had been worth $100million but now doubted if he could buy me lunch. It reminded me of a past scandal with Bernard Cornfield in the ’60’s.

Many of the charities; black tie and lunch events are much quieter and smaller. Even our charity dinner at Donald Trumps private club, the spectacular Maro Largo, was scaled down to a third of the size. Couples that would normally buy three tables were only buying one and some charities have cut down to a ball every two years. Apartments are not selling, in fact it’s hard to give them away. Shopping malls and streets are quiet with many small business closed, people are just not spending.

I was invited to some friends, big developers, who decided to find new avenues to make money. Their spectacular mansion now holds parties for networking. Filled with the wealthy who are hurting from the economy and looking at a new multi level shopping on line idea called ‘Shop to Earn’. It’s growth is incredible sweeping through Florida with over 92,000 joining in less than a year. One of the presenters introduced himself as a realtor refugee who has found his way out of the hole. It reminds me of the song by Billy Ocean “When the Going Gets Tough the Tough Get Going” which hit the charts at our last economic dive. Looks like it’s, “Play it again Sam”.

Valerie Austin

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