CHARLESTON (AP) — There’s a sand-colored garage on state route 25 between Dunbar and Charleston. The building appears innocuous. On the first floor, a bike shop pedals its wares, but on the second floor, an ominous sign looms — it says, “We sell doomsday supplies.”
The sign belongs to Keller’s Survival and Pawn, a business that opened two months ago. The store’s owner and operator Bob Keller said the world’s not coming to an end, but he does want people to be prepared in case there’s a natural disaster.
“How foolish would I be to open a business in April that would end in December?” Keller asked. “I don’t have the Mayans coming in. Every now and then someone will come in and ask about that. I’ll laugh, but generally speaking, I don’t deal with people that have beliefs tied into the Mayan Apocalypse.”
Instead, Keller said he’s prepared to handle a potential disaster based on the current geopolitical climate. And that’s the key word, prepare. Keller says he serves a niche customer base of people known as preppers, or those who ready themselves for the first 72 hours after a disaster occurs.
“Don’t confuse survivalists with preppers because they’re two very different animals.” Keller said. “Survivalists tend to be far more weapons oriented and far more conflict oriented. Where preppers are looking to survive, but are far more community oriented and share. This is because different people have different skills; they want to approach it that way.”
That’s what Keller’s selling, whether it’s a kit with eight dehydrated meals where you need to just add boiling water to eat, or a hand-cranked drill that can operated without the use of electricity. Those items line the shelves in Keller’s store.
Keller’s old school in how he does business. He keeps track of paper receipts and makes change from his pocket. It’s a style he said suits his client base.
“Preppers are very secretive; they don’t want you to know what they have,” Keller said. “I have customers that come in and only pay cash. They don’t want any trail of what they buy. They don’t want to buy online because now there’s a trail to them of what they’ve got. I have others that have spent a lot of time and effort learning different skills and methods. They want to share those skills (through workshops).”
It took a leap of faith for Keller to open the store in late April. After leaving the state’s education system because of a chronic illness, the WVU Tech mechanical engineering grad took stock in what he had around him.
“I took a bit of a gamble to throw that out there and see what would happen,” Keller said. “Shockingly there are a lot of people concerned that are working to get plans together for themselves and their families.”
Keller said business is good because of the small niche his business fills; it’s an audience that is willing to support its worries.
“I mean to tell you they are three ways of concerned,” Keller said. “You think about the recent tornado in West Liberty, Kentucky. It took a week for the Red Cross to get there. It took two weeks for FEMA to get there. What were those people supposed to do? Everything they had was destroyed. We take that thing for granted that it’ll all just work out. No! It won’t all just work out.”
Keller said he advocates keeping what’s known as a Bug Out Bag, which is a checklist for all the supplies one would need in the event of an emergency.