By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What if, for some seemingly unlikely Y2K reason, that grocery store is closed one day. Then another, and another, and soon there's no food left in the fridge?
Bruce Hopkins and his wife, Phyllis, have a suggestion.
The Hopkins' nondescript white house at the corner of Cascade Street and Crest Park Drive in Mesquite is a clearinghouse for thousands of people across the United States who are hastily preparing for survival in 2000.
With the exception of an immense satellite dish that's planted in the back yard, the run-down house looks like all the other run-down houses in this working-class neighborhood. The cement driveway cracks beneath the weight of several late-model sedans, their dented bumpers still bearing red, white, and blue stickers from Bob Dole's 1992 presidential campaign.
A clue to the Hopkins' rising popularity is a flier attached to the back of a red pickup truck. In bold letters, the flier admonishes passersby to STORE FOOD NOW!
Bruce and Phyllis Hopkins are the happy and increasingly prosperous purveyors of a booming 4-year-old enterprise they call Best Price Storable Foods. This fact is evident the moment Bruce Hopkins swings open his front door at 9 a.m. on a recent Wednesday.
Forty-eight-ounce cans of dehydrated and freeze-dried food are everywhere. Strawberry-flavored apple slices, cabbage flakes, sweet peas, and mushroom slices bury a desk in the living room. More cans of green beans, diced carrots, potato flakes, and powdered butter fill up closets and flow into the hallway, where temporary shelves have been erected to create more space.
In a back office, a second desk is buried under a mound of paperwork consisting of dozens of order forms, which the couple's customers place by phone, mail, and fax 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The voice-mail holds 30 calls, and we empty it a couple of times a day, maybe more. Sometimes the phone rings at three in the morning," Phyllis says. "Some days, all we get done is answering the phone."
Four years ago, the Hopkinses began selling storable food because Rush Limbaugh and his ilk had finally convinced them that the government lies, is the people's worst enemy, and will cause the country to go to hell.
"It was mainly from listening to conservative talk radio. I started getting nervous about the state of the country, and I realized I didn't know how to grow my own food," Hopkins says. "When I started, year 2000 wasn't even a consideration."
The Hopkinses used to think they had a good month if they saw $1,500 in sales, which they captured by placing advertisements in ultra-conservative papers such as The Washington Times and American Survival Guide.
But since January, their business has exploded because of concerns over food shortages caused by Y2K. Their clientele, mostly conservative Christians, are finding the Hopkinses on their Web site. Now the couple says they're on pace for recording a quarter million dollars in sales in August alone.
"Most of them say [they] want to order food because of the year 2000, " says Bruce, who earns a 10 percent commission on everything he sells. "When this [Y2K] run started, I figured we'll do about a half million in sales. The calls kept coming. Then I thought, a million. Now I think it'll be closer to four million."
"And," Phyllis adds, "mainstream America has not gotten involved yet."
The quarter million figure Bruce bandies about seems hard to believe, until the couple turns on the ringers to their phones. Within minutes, people from across the country begin calling to place orders, many of them happy to shell out the $3,000 the Hopkinses charge for a one-year supply of food that feeds a family of four.
UNT's Kappelman may be right in criticizing the Hopkins' customers, calling them cowards who are panicking because they are short on information about Y2K. But Penny, from Arizona, says she has considered the ideas of people like Kappelman, and Y2K has made her realize how computer-oriented our country has become. But instead of fighting to keep society the way it is, she would rather live the way society was when people lived off the land.
"When I first learned about Y2K, I studied the issue for six months on the Internet. By the end of my six months, everything was pointing to, 'Let's just get some food,'" says Penny, who is planning to move to a more rural place in Arizona. There, she says, she hopes to raise animals and grow her own food.
"I wanted to get out onto some acreage," Penny says. "I don't want to be dependent on city utilities, and I want to become self-sufficient. I wanted to do that anyway, but this [Y2K issue] really put a fire under my belt."
Bruce Hopkins says he never expected the business to become a full-time job when he started it four years ago as a way to supplement the $30,000 a year he made working at a Garland-based satellite-equipment manufacturing plant. Now he can't believe the friends in high places he's made.
Hopkins pulls out a faxed food order from the U.S. Department of Justice sent by a lawyer who works there. He dials the phone number on the fax and the man answers the phone. He sounds happy to hear from Bruce, who informs him there's a reporter in the house. He asks that his name not be used.