Some yawned at the warnings, preferring to worry about other, more-tangible things. Others ran to hardware stories, grabbing up plastic sheeting, duct tape and batteries.
A day after government directives asking people to be prepared for terrrorist attacks, Washington-area residents greeted the instructions with everything from caution to indifference to frenzy.
“I am more worried about buying salt” to melt ice, said Tom Jarrett of Chevy Chase, whose shopping cart at the College Park Home Depot contained salt and a flashlight. Terrorism “is part of reality. Life just has to go on.”
Orlon Larue of Laurel was even more philosophical as he bypassed Laurel outdoor supplier Sunny’s‘ only gas mask a novelty item.
“If something is going to happen, it is going to happen,” he said. “I don’t take this seriously. It’s in God’s hands.”
Besides, the Pittsburgh native joked, everyone down here panics about everything. “As soon as it snows 1 inch, everyone is running to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper,” he said. “It is always about milk, bread and toilet paper.”
Retailers say they haven’t seen much of an increase in demand for many of the items the government says are needed in case of a terrorist attack: bottled water, duct tape, flashlights and batteries, and plastic sheeting to cover windows and doors.
Officials at national home-improvement chain Lowe’s say it is too early for sales figures on the government’s recommended stockpile items. Customers are asking about them, but the company has not seen a major increase in sales.
“There is certainly an interest and awareness of the products on the list,” said Chris Ahearn, a Lowe’s spokeswoman.
Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, has not seen a change in business.
“We haven’t seen anything unusual,” spokesman Tom Williams said. “What we’ve been seeing is very normal shopping patterns.”
“It’s hard to tell when people are using duct tape to seal their ducts or for something else,” said John Simley, a spokesman for Home Depot. “Nothing is making us do anything terribly different.”
The home-improvement giant, which also carries the government’s prescribed emergency items, had increased water sales in the last week, he said. But he noted that while it is difficult to predict customers’ future purchases, the increase to date is insufficient to require inventory restock.
At College Park’s Home Depot, employees said demand is increasing for the common emergency items. And yesterday, employees moved crates of plastic sheeting, duct tape and flashlights to the front display.
Kelly Tipton, 23, a chemical engineering student from College Park, came by and grabbed a half-dozen rolls of duct tape to go with her plastic sheeting.
“I work with chemicals so I know what can happen,” she said. “Better to be safe than sorry.”
Nearby, employee Donnie Harris showed Jean Clayton of Northeast how to install the sheeting.
“I heard the news; I want to be ready,” she said. “I just want to find a place in my house to be more secure.”
Mr. Harris said that most customers were just “picking up a few things and trying not to go overboard and really hoping they wouldn’t need it.”
But he lamented the lack of expertise available in installing sheeting.
“Which one should the customer buy?” he asked rhetorically. “Where are the professional plastic installers? Who is showing us how to do it?
“I am sure someone is going to write a book about installing plastic and everyone is going to want it,” he said. “In the meantime, what is the 800 number for plastic installation?”
Staff writers Donna De Marco and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.