War in the gulf, a deepening national recession and growing fear that the Apocalypse may be at hand have brought a booming trade to Utah's food-storage and hard-currency vendors.
"Business has been up 200 to 300 percent," said Betty Stoll, manager of Perma Pak Food Storage in South Salt Lake. "Some people are talking about it being the end of the world."They wonder if this is it. I don't say whether it is or isn't," she added. "I don't worry too much about it. If you have your stuff and are prepared, there's not much more you can do about it, right?"
Maintaining stockpiles of staples against emergencies is nothing new to Utahns, 70 percent of whom belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since the Great Depression half a century ago, the faith has encouraged members to store a year's worth of food.
"The church's long-standing policy is just being ready for any emergency, and the current situation in the Middle East certainly qualifies," said church spokesman Don LeFevre.
Maintaining emergency foodstuffs is a wise policy for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, unemployment and unexpected illness, LeFevre said.
"These are things we're all faced with at times in our lives," he said. "The basic philosophy is being self-sufficient."
Along with food supplies, Utahns are showing increasing interest in silver and gold as hedges against economic collapse.
Gaylen Rust of Salt Lake's Rust Coin and Gift Shop said sales of gold and silver are way up due to a combination of war jitters, mistrust of the nation's banks and unusually low precious metal prices.
"My last quarter we saw close to a 20 to 25 percent increase in the bullion-related sales of gold and silver," Rust said. He said much of his new business is from first-time customers motivated by events in the gulf.
"We're seeing more and more new people, coming in and asking questions right off the street," Rust said. "People feel they ought to protect some of their income with hard money."
Hedging against an uncertain future has not, apparently, included a rush by Utahns to buy guns. Gallenson's firearms store, a Salt Lake fixture since 1914, has not seen any dramatic increase in gun or ammunition purchases.
"We've had a few guys come in for reloading supplies, figuring that because of the war there might be a shortage in the future," said Leon Gallenson. Otherwise, "there's been no surge, no big deal."
But if Utahns are not building arsenals, there's no doubt they are stocking their pantries. Survival food outlets report the demand equals, and perhaps exceeds, the buying prompted by a December earthquake scare.
"I think this (the war) has scared a lot of people into doing it," Stoll said. "It's really frightened some people."
Perma Pak usually has one person on during the day but has had to bring in up to three extra workers during peak demand. Employees also are kept busy at night packing the store's specialty - 72-hour dehydrated food survival kits that sell for between $129.95 and $159.95.
Heidi Hill, manager of Safeguard Food Storage in the Salt Lake suburb of Bountiful, said her sales of survival foods have at least doubled. Customers are readily plunking down from $499 to $799 for one-year food supplies.
Also popular are $59.95 grain mills that can be used to prepare 50-pound bags of wheat for cooking, camp stoves and fuel and five-gallon water storage containers.
Some customers "are really shaken up" by the war, Hill said. "A couple people have even come in and asked for gas masks, which we don't carry."