Prospecting for gold in the streets of NYC

NEW YORK - Many people have come to New York over the years in search of fortune. It is not true that the streets are paved with gold, but the sidewalks might be.

Sometimes, in tough times, people think up the craziest ideas for making money. Take, for example, 43-year-old, unemployed jewelry setter Raffi Steppanian. As CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports, when it comes to unusual business plans, Steppanian takes the gold - literally.

Steppanian said he's a "prospector looking for placer deposits."

A "placer deposit" is anywhere gold tends to settle - like the cracks and crevices of a mountain stream. But this isn't where Steppanian's looking. Last month, he started looking for gold in the cracks and crevices of 47th Street - in Midtown Manhattan.

Steppanian is thoroughly convinced there's gold in them there expansion joints. "It's been in there for years, it's embedded in there," he said.

He's mining 47th Street specifically because this is New York's Diamond District. Steppanian said jewelry manufacturing, especially in the old days, produced a lot of little gold flakes and he said some of those had to end up on the worker's feet - which he assumes then got transferred to the sidewalk and eventually washed into these cracks.

To some of his former colleagues and coworkers it's a ridiculous theory - and a pathetic sight - seeing Steppanian on his hands and knees.

"Ultimately, in the end we all have to endure a little humility in order to achieve success," he said.

So far he has collected more than 35 pounds of sidewalk gunk and is just now starting to sift through it all in his garage. It'll take weeks to know exactly what he's got here. But I can already tell you this. His theory pans out.

So far, Steppanian says he's collected about $800 worth. Even more astounding, it turns out these sidewalks are paved with more than just gold: there are diamonds by the dozen, rubies and sapphires. It's mostly small stuff - probably dropped by dealers and customers. Nothing's worth more than about $60. But it adds up. And it's a living.

"I'm independent, and I'm doing this on my own," Steppanian said. "And the reward is phenomenal."

There may never be a more phenomenal discovery until someday, when somebody does the next logical thing and mines Steppanian's garage.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.