In the recent past, when I needed a break from following the financial markets and investment world, I frequented a nearby ice cream store with my kids.

When I walked  by its empty storefront on winter nights, I often wondered why it didn’t offer something a little more inviting like, say, hot chocolate or Belgian waffles.

That ice cream shop recently shut down for lack of business, but the neighborhood coffee shop is always bustling. In fact, the small coffee shop now offers tasty and toasty Belgian waffles, and it’s rolled out ice cream for warm, sunny days.

I thought about these two different business models when contemplating today’s fear-filled securities markets. It’s still awfully cold out there.

Individual investors are wary of stocks. Seeing economic chaos all around them, they have sat out the more than 60% rise in equities since the March 2009 low.

And demographically dominant retirement investors are starved for income thanks to the Fed’s continued zero rate policy, pulling in a measly $540 a year for their $20,000 investment in benchmark 10-year Treasuries.

While eschewing equities, individual investors are piling into Eisenhower-era bond yields, and they are consigning much more of their wealth to money market funds, where the current 7-day yield is 0.03%.

Can individual investors do better than make 6 bucks a year with 20 grand stashed in a money market? A couple of savvy operators on both coasts think so.

Edward Mermelstein, a Ukrainian-born New York real estate attorney focusing on an international, mainly Eastern European, clientele, thinks Americans, still scarred by the real estate meltdown, are ignoring a historic buying opportunity.

“The rest of the world knows America is on sale and right now see a $75 million office building as a much smarter investment then a $50 million mansion.”

In fact, the same gloomy statistics that have paralyzed American investors — monthly construction starts at historic lows — are precisely what gives Mermelstein such confidence.

“The lack of new construction and construction financing points to a fast rebound once the current stock is absorbed — the same pattern we saw after the recession in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he says.

“In New York, for example, there are no major construction plans for the next year, because there is no financing. And the longer this dry spell continues, the faster the eventual rebound.”

This logic, and the 50% discounts that Mermelstein’s clients see, account for the 300-odd deals he has arranged in just the past two years for his clients from the former Soviet Union.

Across the country in Los Angeles, partners Sam Shvartsmann and Norman Lee of JAL Investments are reaching out to financial advisors looking to induce clients back into investing at more bite-sized share prices.

Shvartsmann, who coincidentally is also Ukrainian-born (both he and Mermelstein speak unaccented American English), says that traditional real estate investment is based on market appreciation with no current-period income, and oftentimes requires additional capital contributions during the holding period.

“Our strategy provides immediate income and potential for capital appreciation. We invest in foreclosed, multi-family properties 2 to 6 units each.

“Properties must at minimum produce a 10% capitalization rate and are purchased at a 35% to 50% discount from their pervious purchase price,” he adds.

Shvartsmann’s investments have brought 10 to 12% average returns over the past two years. The minimum investment on his last purchase was $17,500 a share, which has generated $1,925 a share annually.

The same investment in a 10-year Treasury would bring your client $472.50 — less than a fourth of JAL’s return. Shvartsmann pays indie investment advisors a commission for referrals to interested clients.

As in the case of that ice cream store that recently shut down, some investors cold to today’s standard investment choices are looking for something a little warmer in this still frozen economy.