Barry K. Bergman has been trying to get Symphony Fabrics Corp.'s business for five years.

"This has been the longest sales call of your life," said Mr. Cohn, chief financial officer of the New York textile converting company.

"I know I'm going to get it," replied Mr. Bergman, a Chase Manhattan Corp. vice president who specializes in lending to textile and apparel companies.

After half an hour of shop and family talk, the men shook hands. Mr. Cohn said Symphony was considering working with a financial institution other than its current factoring company. Chase was in the running.

"In this business you have to keep at it," the banker said after the visit. "You can't get discouraged."

Mr. Bergman has been in banking for 14 years. He came to Chase in the March 31 merger with Chemical, and to Chemical when it absorbed Manufacturers Hanover. And on April 17 he was one of 1,300 Chase bankers who called on roughly 4,000 businesses in six states.

It was the fifth such prospecting blitz for Mr. Bergman and his former Chemical colleagues. But this year's was as much defensive as a grab for new customers. To soothe apprehension about the merger, the bank officers made more visits than in the past to current customers.

Some bankers dismiss the drive as a publicity stunt - but not middle- market competitor Jim Lawrence, president of $1 billion-asset Merchants New York Bancorp.

"They deserve the accolades they get, because they are the leaders in the market," he said.

Chase chairman Walter Shipley himself exhorted the troops at an 8 a.m. meeting at the bank's Manhattan headquarters. His words and those of other Chase executives and former New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, an occasional spokesman for the bank, were broadcast to offices across the country.

"We are sending a message," Mr. Shipley said, "not only to ourselves, but to the competition out there: That all is alive and well, and that we are the leader in the marketplace, and that the merger is not going to get in the way."

About 400 bankers in the 49th-floor dining room applauded his speech and reports of the company's 44% increase in operating earnings.

Thus inspired, the bankers bolted for the elevators to start making their calls, creating a logjam of "suits." Some milled around for 20 minutes before they could squeeze into a packed car that would take them to street level.

Once outside, Mr. Bergman spent the day hustling around Manhattan's swarming garment district.

Besides Symphony his targets were three top longtime customers.

Mr. Bergman's first call was on Bernard Holtzman, president of clothing wholesaler Harve-Benard Ltd. The former Manufacturers Hanover customer had come to Chemical with Mr. Bergman.

Mr. Holtzman had no gripes about the latest merger. "We don't even notice the difference," he said. "I think you're overly sensitive about that."

He made it clear that Chase need not fear losing him. Other banks had tried for his business recently, he said, and he'd been offered better prices - but he wouldn't budge.

"We stayed for the relationship," Mr. Holtzman said. He pointed at Mr. Bergman.

"We stayed because of him! I love his suspenders."

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