Gas masks are a rare commodity in Baltimore-area outdoor and military surplus stores in the days since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
Store owners say they have been deluged with telephone calls and order requests from people fearful that the next wave of terrorism could include chemical and biological warfare.
"These are everyday family people buying these," Anita Sturzinski, a cashier at the Sunny's Great Outdoors store on York Road in Timonium, said yesterday. "People want to know if they are going to fit their kids."
Store owners say gas mask sales have soared in the last week.
The 18 Sunny's stores in the Baltimore-Washington area sold more than 150 last week. The chain normally averages six such sales a week.
Dave Dileo, manager of H&H Outdoors in the 400 block of N. Eutaw St. in downtown Baltimore, said he had sold "hundreds" of the masks last week.
H&H and most Sunny's stores are sold out.
The Sunny's on York Road in Timonium received a shipment of 24 masks about 1 p.m. yesterday. They were gone within an hour.
Sturzinksi said that demand was so strong the store limited customers to two masks each. One man wanted to buy 20.
Gas masks sell for about $20 each.
"If we let people buy as many as they want, they would be gone in 10 minutes," Sturzinski said.
Joseph Smith of Lutherville, who bought the Timonium store's last two masks yesterday, said he views the equipment as a necessity.
"I would have never thought we would see the day after leaving World War II we would be buying these things for civilian protection," said Smith, who was in the Army Air Forces during World War II and the Air Force in the Korean War.
Office supply store owner
Thomas Kennedy, owner of Dawn's Office Supply in the 2400 block of N. Charles St., was also hoping to purchase several masks yesterday, but he couldn't find any.
Thomas wanted a dozen masks - one for each of his employees.
"You need to think it could possibly happen, so why not have some protection?" Kennedy asked. "We still want to make deliveries; if the germs are out there, we still want to send our drivers out."
Loralea Sanderson, a spokeswoman for Sunny's, said she expects 900 more masks will be delivered to the chain's area stores next week.
A waiting list of 40
Many stores have a waiting list, including the District Heights store, where 40 people have signed up.
Sunny's employees said yesterday they are not sure the gas masks work. "Before, we would sell them as a novelty for kids who like to play Army," Sanderson said, noting that many customers were frustrated to learn that the instructions for its masks were in Hebrew.
Sunny's sells masks made in Israel, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.
An article in The Times of London yesterday questioned the effectiveness of commercially sold gas masks.
The report said that buyers would only be protected if they carried the masks with them at all times.
Sanderson, of Sunny's, suggested that people should prepare for other, more immediate threats.
"We think people should be prepared for things that are more likely to happen, such as a snowstorm or power outage," Sanderson said.
But Smith, who bought what those might have been the last two gas masks in the region yesterday, was looking for more.
"You don't have one for the dog, do you?" he asked the Sunny's sales clerk.