© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003
Wartime anxieties have led some Tampa Bay area residents to buy gas masks and chemical warfare suits. But this is nothing compared with what happened in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, hundreds flocked to military surplus stores to buy anything they thought would protect them from biological warfare from terrorists.
The war in Iraq has revived some of the same fears, although not to the same extent.
This week, the Army Navy Surplus Market in Tampa has sold dozens of gas masks, chemical suits and jerry cans for gasoline, owner Nick Potamitis said.
Headquarters Military Surplus in Brandon has sold about a dozen gas masks and a couple of chemical suits.
"People call and ask what the masks can do," salesman Frank Williams said.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Army Navy Store in St. Petersburg sold all 40 of its Israeli army gas masks within days. But now it doesn't even carry gas masks.
Aside from military surplus stores, a cottage industry has sprung up on the Internet, hawking all kinds of protective gear.
Some Florida-based companies are seeing a surge in sales as a result of the war.
"It's not even close to what it was after 9/11," said Andrew Weiner, president of armynavymilitarysurplus.com, based in Clearwater.
GasMasksUSA.com, based in Fort Lauderdale, has shipped out 500 to 700 masks this month, many of them to the New York area, spokesman Colin Thomas said.
"It's a preventive measure," Thomas said. "Most people are hoping they just wind up being Halloween costumes."