Gas masks, survival gear selling out in Bay Area : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Published Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Gas masks, survival gear selling out in Bay Area


In the wake of last week's horrific events, thousands of Bay Area residents are doing something they never imagined: stocking up on gas masks.

Fearing that the next terrorist attack may involve chemical or biological weapons, they are rushing to Army and Navy surplus stores to get ready.

Mason Brawley, 23, a San Jose accountant, bought a Belgian-made gas mask in the J&S Surplus and Outdoor Store in Moss Landing this week. ``I'm not a violent guy, I don't own a gun,'' he said. ``This is self-preservation.''

Surplus stores around the state used to sell gas masks mainly to Halloween revelers and to survivalists. Fear unleashed by the World Trade Center attacks runs so deep, survivalism has gone mainstream.

To thousands like Brawley, a once unimaginable attack now seems possible. In addition to gas masks, they have been buying flags, blankets, flashlights and first-aid kits, which have been selling as rapidly as the new bestseller on ``Germs: America's Secret War Against Biological Weapons.''

``These are everyday family people who are buying masks and filters for themselves and their kids,'' said Ozzie Cardinale, the J&S manager. ``They fear retaliation is going to bring retaliation.''

Last weekend, J&S Surplus sold its entire stock of 50 Israeli-made gas masks at $20 each. Monday, the store sold out of Belgium-made gas masks. Tuesday morning, the last of three World War II-era gas masks J&S stocks for collectors sold for $49.95 each.

In San Jose, Stevens Creek Surplus has sold all 150 Israeli-made gas masks it had in stock this week. On a typical weekend, Mountain View Surplus sells ``maybe one mask,'' said Tony Radman, the manager. But last weekend, the store in Mountain View sold 200 masks. The Alameda Discount Center in Alameda sold more than 50 gas masks.

``If we hadn't run out, we could have sold 50 to 60 more,'' said Joseph Pantanwale, the store owner.

In Moss Landing, Cardinale said he used to sell gas masks to a specialized clientele: prison guards and protesters on their way to 1999's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

Cardinale is now fielding calls from ordinary people who want to purchase ``NBC Suits,'' rubberized suits that protect against nuclear, biological and chemical attacks.

``I tell them an NBC suit is good for only six hours. They still want it,'' said Cardinale, whose store had no NBC suits in stock before last Tuesday's attack.

A gas mask can offer protection for up to 12 hours.

It may be months before Bay Area surplus stores are able to replenish the stocks. In anticipation of Halloween, Core, a wholesaler in Chico that supplies 1,100 surplus, hunting and outdoors stores, put 28,000 masks on sale the day before the attack. Three days later, they were gone.

``I've been on the phone all day with people screaming for gas masks,'' said Tony DeLuca, chief executive of Core.

Early this week, DeLuca scoured the international market for more masks. He ordered four containers -- each with 10,000 to 20,000 masks -- from suppliers in Germany. The first container should be in Chico within a few weeks.

Brawley, the San Jose accountant, says buying a gas mask was a matter of patriotism as well as survival.

``The American way is to fight until you can't fight anymore,'' he said. ``And you can't fight if you are not alive.''

-- Martin Thompson (, September 20, 2001


Here's one ray of good news amid all the grimness: Unlike Y2K, people are actually PREPARING this time! Now if only our Government would facilitate and encourage more of it (such as by releasing military surplus supplies) . . .

-- Robert Riggs (, September 21, 2001.

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