Sales of safes growing as Americans hunt financial security

By Ashley M. Heher
Associated Press / October 11, 2008
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CHICAGO - Afraid that cash isn't secure even behind the thick walls of banks, more people are turning to something that's protected money since the days of Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde: safes.

The metal vaults are so popular in some parts of the country that shoppers are depleting store supplies as worries about the nation's economy spread.

"What people are putting in them, I have no idea," said Karen Cobb, a spokeswoman for the Lowe's home improvement chain. "But in a downturned economy, people are seeing increased interest in protecting something."

During the three months ending June 30, the latest period for which data is available, domestic bank deposits slipped by nearly $40 billion, according to federal data.

And so far this year, market declines have erased $8.7 trillion in wealth. That's a figure so staggering that some are cashing out assets and shifting other investments in a no-holds-barred effort to stanch the bleeding.

At SentrySafe, a safe manufacturer, sales rose as much as 50 percent in the past three weeks as people try to lock up assets.

"Their home values have plummeted and they've been scared silly as they see their 401(k) values fall off," said Doug Brush, the company's chief business development officer. "It's understandable that people are looking to gain control and bring things that are valuable and important to them home."

Christopher Ryan, a chiropractor in Waterloo, N.Y., already owns three safes and plans to buy a fourth safe to store cash he's saving for a boat. "You see the stocks are going down. . . . I think I'm better off just keeping the cash for myself," he said.

But financial advisers say cashing out entirely and hoarding assets in safes is probably unwise. "It's just stupid," said Karl Blovet, a certified public account and financial planner in Chicago. "That just displays panic."

Still, business is up 15 percent at Advanced Safes in Avondale, Ariz., where sales began climbing after the federal government offered a $700 billion federal banking bailout last month.

"When they started talking about billions as if they were hundreds of dollars, people started calling," said Lawrence Hilliard, the company's director of operations. "They're worried."

Lowe's wouldn't provide specific sales figures but said some stores in major cities had to be restocked because of high demand. Cobb said the Mooresville, N.C., chain noticed a jump in sales about six weeks ago.

Meanwhile, officials at Home Depot in Atlanta said sales of safes have risen by double digits in the past two weeks, and safe-maker Honeywell said sales were 50 percent higher than usual during the past three weeks.

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