Tuesday, May 26, 2009
SAN DIEGO — Six months ago, Jim Wiseman didn't even have a spare nutrition bar in his kitchen cabinet.
Now, the 54-year-old businessman and father of five has a backup generator, a water filter, a grain mill and a 4-foot-tall pile of emergency food tucked in his home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla.
Wiseman isn't alone. Emergency supply retailers and military surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as more Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hard-core survivalists.
These people snapping up everything from water purification tablets to thermal blankets shatter the survivalist stereotype: They are mostly urban professionals with mortgages, SUVs, solid jobs and a twinge of embarrassment about their newfound hobby.
From teachers to real estate agents, these budding emergency gurus say the dismal economy has made them prepare for financial collapse as if it were an oncoming Category 5 hurricane. They worry about rampant inflation, runs on banks, bare grocery shelves and power failures that could make taps run dry.
For Wiseman, a fire protection contractor, that's meant spending about $20,000 since September on survival gear.
The surge in interest in emergency stockpiling has been a bonanza for camping supply companies and military surplus vendors, some of whom report sales spikes of up to 50 percent. These companies usually cater to people preparing for earthquakes or hurricanes, but informal customer surveys now indicate the bump is from first-time shoppers who cite financial, not natural, disaster.
Top sellers include 55-gallon containers, freeze-dried foods, water filters, purification tablets, glow sticks, lamp oil, thermal blankets, dust masks and first-aid kits.
Online interest in survivalism has increased too. The niche Web site SurvivalBlog.com has seen its page views triple in the past 14 months to nearly 137,000 unique visitors a week. Jim Rawles, a self-described survivalist who runs the site, calls the newcomers "11th-hour believers." He charges $100 an hour for phone consulting on emergency preparedness and says that business also has tripled.