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Club invests in new concept

Inside the cool, dark Portfolio Club, Locke Besse has found refuge from both the summer sun and the sales tactics of aggressive stockbrokers.

"A broker's job is to get you to buy something," said Besse, who sits in front of a computer screen, notepad and pencil at the ready. With a few taps on the keyboard, he calls up a screenful of data on Toyota Motor Corp., a Japanese auto stock he has been watching closely this week.

"If you can get the raw information and you know how to use it, you'll do okay on your own," said Besse, a self-employed consultant. "If I avoid only one mistake a year or get information to make one really good investment, I've paid for this."

"This" is an unusual 3-week-old club for investors with a streak of independence and the time to do their own research. In fact, so far as its creators know, the Portfolio Club is unique.

If they succeed in Clearwater, they plan to take their concept to Tampa next year, with both the Hyde Park and Carrollwood areas under consideration.

First, though, they have to find out if investors are willing to pay for the wealth of resources and amenities the club is prepared to deliver.

A charter membership is $2,000, plus dues of $960 a year. So far, Besse is one of about 50 people who have agreed to join the club, located in a shopping center at 2569 Countryside Blvd., across from Countryside Mall. Breaking even will take about 350 members, said chief executive Gene Vandi.

While the club may seem expensive, Vandi points out that it costs less than many country clubs, the fees are tax-deductible investment expenses and members should see a financial return on their outlay.

"The more people know about investing, the better they ought to do," he said. "Learning by trial and error is very costly to people."

The club's big attraction is its research capabilities, giving investors access to the kind of timely information once available only to big money managers.

Satellite dishes feed the club's computer system with instant market information. With the club's computer software, members can screen thousands of stocks for portfolio suitability or create an individualized financial plan. Or, they can just sit back and watch stock quotes flash by on an electronic ticker.

For those who prefer printed information, there are stock and mutual fund reports from companies such as Standard & Poor's, Value Line and Morningstar, investment newsletters and videos, and business newspapers, magazines and books.

The club also offers investment classes and discussions with money managers. Tony Gray, chairman of SunBank Capital Management, drew about 90 people for a talk Thursday night.

Vandi says he thinks one of the biggest advantages members have is the opportunity to talk over their investment ideas with club managers, many of whom have investment backgrounds, and with other members.

To keep the atmosphere pure, solicitation of members at the club is forbidden. Violators may be expelled, according to the club's rules.

The club is owned by Portfolio Club Enterprises Inc., a group of 60 investors.

Vandi said launching the Clearwater club, hooking up the expensive electronics and creating a plush club atmosphere in shopping center space cost "too much." Advance marketing last summer produced few results, and construction delays kept pushing back the club opening. However, Vandi said repeating the format in other locations should be less expensive.

The club is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. It has a bar and light food service _ fruits and pastries in the morning and sandwiches, soups, salads and pastas the rest of the time. Members will have partial after-hours access to the club through an electronic card key security system. To inquire about joining, call 796-3880.