WAR IN THE BALKANS. Chinese spies in American labs. India and Pakistan playing nuclear chicken.
All good news for Walton McCarthy, who sells peace of mind in the form of fiberglass "disaster" shelters. McCarthy's Radius Defense has been making underground shelters in Northwood, NH for 20 years. And now business is booming: McCarthy expects to sell $14 million worth of his egg-shaped shelters this year, up sixfold from 1998. He's added a third shift to keep up with a six-month backlog.
McCarthy is a 47-year-old engineer who started dabbling in shelters while living in Montana in the early 1970s. He claims his newest model can hold ten people for a month and protect them from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. A bare-bones, 21 foot-long unit goes for $38,000; shipping, installation and extras like a reinforced hatch bring the bill to about $45,000.
What sort of person invests in a bomb shelter? Doctors, lawyers and "well-educated, well-off people who plan ahead," says McCarthy. He's prickly about the notion that his customers are militia-minded survivalists or skittish types spooked by millennial fears.
"The year 2000 thing is a panic sale. People don't spend $40,000 in a panic."
Other shelter-sellers are less reluctant to court the American fringe. Coos Bay, Ore. based Quadel Industries runs ads for its 56-squarefoot polyethylene "Bear Den" $3,000 with stairs, plus shipping and handlingin magazines like Solder of Fortune and Combat Handgun; the family-owned company thinks it will sell 300 this year.
Kleen Air Technologies of Frisco, Colo. builds underground concrete shelters with "nearly all the trappings of home," says owner William Eckhoff. He's begun construction of a $1.5 million, 3,000-square-foot shelter that features a greenhouse and a shooting range for a "high-tech entrepreneur" in Montana.
Might be safer than the stock market.