Covid-19 making Doomsday Bunker market very hot

 

When the end came, it was just like Tom and Mary had imagined. Supply chains started to crumble. Millions of Americans lost their jobs. Grocery stores ran out of food. The nearly retired couple wasn’t going to wait for society to collapse. They hopped in their camper van and drove 19 hours to South Dakota. “To come here and experience it in person is like walking the Grand Canyon for the first time,” Tom says. But it’s not the Grand Canyon. It’s a doomsday bunker.

Tom and Mary are living at xPoint, an abandoned military facility-turned-survivalist community at the base of the Black Hills in Fall River County. Miles of plains stretch out in all directions, connected by 100 miles of private road. Along the skyline, steel doors tucked into grassy knolls indicate the openings to the bunkers. It looks like an abandoned ranch, which is more or less what it was until a real estate mogul purchased it for the price of $1.

The idea for Vivos, a global community of apocalypse bunkers, came to CEO Robert Vicino nearly four decades ago in a moment of inspiration that featured a “crystal clear” female voice in his head. It said, Robert, you need to build deep underground bunkers for people to survive something that is coming our way. He filed it away until 2008, (the year Obama was elected) when the time was finally right to start building.

Vivos has survival campuses in South Dakota, where Tom and Mary live, and Indiana. These are for the downmarket bunkers that cost roughly $35,000 each. Vivos Europe, in contrast, is marketed as “the ultimate life assurance solution for high net worth families.” Apartments there cost upwards of $2 million.

Landscape photo of abandoned military bunkers.
xPoint is an abandoned military facility-turned-survivalist community at the base of the Black Hills in Fall River County, South Dakota.
 Photo: Vivos
A promotional photo of a kitchen and dining area in one of the bunkers at xPoint.
A promotional photo of a kitchen and dining area in one of the bunkers at xPoint.
A promotional photo of a bedroom in one of the bunkers at xPoint.
A promotional photo of a bedroom in one of the bunkers at xPoint.

While Vivos has been profiled as a luxury bunker facility, Vicino says most of his customers are middle-class. He describes them as “well-educated, average people with a keen awareness of the current global events and a sense of responsibility knowing they must care for and protect their families during these potential epic and catastrophic times.” Based on the people I spoke to for this story, it seems they are also all polite, white, and Trump-supporting.

As COVID-19 brings the real estate market to a standstill, demand for doomsday bunkers is at an all-time high (or low since the structures are underground). The shelters were once signifiers of fringe prepper communities worried about the coming apocalypse. During the pandemic, they’ve become vacation homes. “People thought we were crazy because they never believed anything like this could happen,” says Vicino. “Now they’re seeing it. Everybody is a believer.”

Bunkers give people a sense of control, the feeling that they can fend for themselves. Their newfound popularity mirrors an overall trend toward more disaster preparedness where behaviors that used to seem paranoid, like stockpiling food, look normal (if inadvisable) in light of the ongoing pandemic.

But the trend also has a darker side: the sense that people need to protect themselves against the other. “The have-nots are going to go after the haves,” Vicino tells me. “They will knock on your door. And if you don’t have enough to give, it gets ugly.”

A graphic map showing the size and layout of xPoint.Image: Vivos

While many Vivos customers are currently building out their bunkers, Tom and Mary are one of the only other couples living at xPoint permanently. They bought their shelter three years ago after reading Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse, which is popular among prepper communities. The book is a work of fiction; it tells the story of a global economic collapse where the United States becomes “gripped” in a “continual orgy of robbery, murder, looting, rape, and arson” where “hordes of refugees and looters pour out of the cities.” Tom says, “It opened my eyes to the level of vulnerability that most people have if something happens and food can’t be delivered to the store for whatever reason.”

While the pandemic prompted Tom and Mary to move out to their bunker and has brought in an influx of new clients, Robert Vicino is convinced it’s only the beginning. “It’s the ripple effect,” he tells me. “People will become predators.” Vicino paints a picture of looting and mayhem much like what’s described in Patriots. “The have-nots will go after the haves,” he says again. “There will be hell zones.”

If this happens, Vicino claims Vivos will be the ultimate safe zone. “I would hope that the seeds of the future society of America come through Vivos,” he says humbly. “It may sound prophetic, but it could happen.”

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