With economic depression hanging over the holiday season thicker than the December smog, most Utah retailers are expecting a very unmerry holiday sales season. Some merchants, however, are seeing a sales spike in survivalist goods ranging from guns to freeze-dried food. From kooky to prudent, a healthy smattering of local businesses are cashing in on humanity’s uncertain future.
Paul Seyfried has seen more interest lately in his company, Utah Shelter Systems, which has built nuke-proof bomb shelters professionally since 1997. While there’s been more local buzz for Seyfried’s shelters, his Utah sales are fewer compared to sales from customers on the coasts.
“My philosophy is nobody cares about your family,” Seyfried says. “No government official gives a rat’s behind about your family. You’re entirely on your own. If it’s a natural disaster, economic emergency, nuclear, biological or chemical attack—you are own your own.”
Seyfried got into this business from military experience. He also works at night for a missile-design company. “Yeah, I kind of work both sides of the street,” he jokes. His shelters run about $50,000 and are made of corrugated iron pipe built to withstand a one-megaton nuclear blast.
The shelters have gamma-radiation-deflecting entrances, stand-alone electrical wiring and advanced Swiss-designed chem/bio filters for filtering toxic pollutants from the shelter’s air supply. Seyfried’s popular unit size is the 10-by-50-foot, which retails for $55,000.
Seyfried doesn’t consider his shelters as a throwback to the Cold War era and sees the increased interest in his business as proof.
“Wars are bred out of instability and economic difficulties,” he says. “We are heading into a period of that right now. People sense trouble in the air, and they don’t want to be dependent on anyone else to come save them.”
Shelters may be a luxury item on some survivalists’ wish list and might be a difficult find, not unlike certain firearms.
Joe Chetwood, a gunsmith at FBMG Inc. in Draper, says the store has a 50-person backlog on AR-15 assault rifles, which retail for $895. Gun owners are on hyperalert, anticipating the Barack Obama administration will ban the sale of AR-15s.
“Right after the election, we did about three months worth of sales in about two weeks,” Chetwood says. FBMG is looking for more inventory but is still expecting a 20-week wait from its fastest gun manufacturer. Chetwood sees Obama’s election as the driving force behind the sales but says customers are also reacting out of general uncertainty for the future.
“[Obama] is definitely part of it. That motivation [to buy weapons] is also fuelled by the worry that ‘I don’t know that I’m going to be able get these things by this time next year,’” Chetwood says.
Many other people are opting for disaster preparedness by purchasing freeze-dried food, water purifiers and military-issue MREs. Mark Swindell, manager of the Salt Lake City REI store, says he’s recently noticed a different kind of customer purchasing water purifiers and camp stoves.
“You can always tell,” Swindell says. “They’re generally not a backpacking, outdoor-type customer. They start asking questions like, ‘Can I filter the water out of my hot tub?’ I’m really amazed.”
Swindell says it’s not an overwhelming trend but says in recent weeks his camping department has seen a 14-percent sales spike, when normally that department’s sales are flat during the winter season.
In Orem, Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outdoor store has likewise seen a steady sale in its military surplus line of MREs. The food rations have a chemical heating system that warms the meals without the use of flame.
“This sales volume is what it would normally be like,” says an Uncle Sam’s clerk who would only be identified as Peggy L. “We should be slower but were not,” she says. Despite the economic downturn, “we’re having our normal sales like we always would.” In the current economy, this is telling—especially since MREs, at $99.95 for a case of 12 meals, are not cheap. Peggy has also seen steady interest in other survival items including wool blankets, heaters and high-calorie protein bars.
Another business that makes its bread and butter off a much cheaper emergency foodstuff, freeze-dried and evaporated food storage, is also doing well. Don Pectol has been running a local food-storage and disaster-preparedness business called Emergency Essentials since 1987. Pectol is not only weathering the bad economy but even recently opened up a new location in South Jordan, making this his third retail outlet in the state to go along with his thriving catalogue business serving out-of-state customers.
“Food storage today is so much better than it used to be,” Pectol says. “In fact, it’s cheaper today than it was back in 1976.”
Pectol’s freeze-dried food-storage supplies offer meals that need only water. The packages vary, but a basic starter supply at $699.95 averages out to about 64¢ per meal. The Ultimate Yearlong Supply package at $2,399.95 averages to about $2.20 per meal.
“I grew up in California,” Pectol says. “I’ve seen multiple earthquakes, floods—and grocery store shelves struck bare and people fighting over a can of mushrooms.” For Pectol, being prepared is just a smart investment anytime.
“It’s not just for survivalists. It’s not a gloom and doom principle; it’s a common and wise principle,” Pectol says, adding that he hopes people aren’t acting out of fear.
“We don’t teach fear,” he says. “We just encourage a correct principle of being prepared.”