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Worries drive up sales of safes

October 16, 2008|From the Associated Press

CHICAGO — Afraid that cash isn't secure even behind the thick walls of banks, more people are turning to something that has 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," Lowe's Cos. spokeswoman Karen Cobb said. "But in a downturned economy, people are seeing increased interest in protecting something."

During the three months that ended June 30, the latest period for which data is available, domestic bank deposits slipped 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 people are cashing out assets and shifting to other investments in a no-holds-barred effort to stanch the bleeding.

At SentrySafe, the nation's top safe manufacturer, sales are up as much as 50% in the last few weeks as nervous 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 to store cash he's saving for a boat.

"You see the stocks are going down," he said. "I think I'm better off just keeping the cash for myself."

But financial advisors 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."

Lowe's wouldn't provide specific sales figures for competitive reasons, but said safe supplies at some stores in major cities had to be restocked because of high demand. Cobb said the Mooresville, N.C.-based chain noticed "significant" growth in sales about six weeks ago.

Meanwhile, officials at Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. said safe sales had double-digit increases in recent weeks, and safe maker Honeywell reports that sales are 50% higher than usual.

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