The self-reliance movement goes mainstream

Geronimo Harrison stands in his apartment lit with candles and without power or water as the gas stove burns for heat during Superstorm Sandy in Manhattan's East Village on Nov. 1, 2012 in New York.

Survivalist used to be just another way of saying right-wing extremist who either hated the government, thought the world would end...or both.

But then Hurricane Katrina hit, the economy collapsed, and Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City and New Jersey.

“People are feeling anxiety about the economy, the threat of pandemics, you name it," says Jim Rawles who runs the website SurvivalBlog. “Preparedness has become big business.”

Sales have only continued to grow at the Ready Store, an online firm that sells emergency preparedness supplies.

The most expensive thing we sell is a year supply of food. It’s about $3,500,” says marketing director Jonathan Dick.

Dick estimates consumers spend half a billion dollars a year on things like water storage tanks, shelters, battery-powered radios and of course food rations.

And then there are all the trade shows, like the Self Reliance Expo, run by Ron Douglas, an entrepreneur in Colorado. Douglas says visitors can attend a broad array of classes.

“Soap-making, candle-making, I think we have bread-baking...full-on gardening classes. Raising rabbits,” he says.

Douglas -- who charges $10 for a two-day pass to the Expo -- says he’s seen his crowds swell from several thousand a few years ago, to more than 10,000 these days. You don’t have to tell him that this self-reliance industry is becoming more mainstream, he sees it.

“You’ll see a guy sitting three in dreadlocks and flip-flops and two seats down is a camoed-out guy, and two seats down from him is a mother with a stroller,” he says.

When it comes to marketing though, Jonathan Dick at the Ready Store says the industry still has some work to do.

“If you start shopping around, you’ll notice there is a lot of doom and gloom out there. And frankly, I think it’s a lot of people trying to get people to buy stuff by making them afraid,” he says.

Dick says in a way, loading up on solar panels, extra food and equipment isn’t much different than an insurance policy that customers -- hopefully -- won’t ever need.

But if they do...

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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