Pulse: Chatter: Safe House Beautiful
As long as the world keeps ending, business will be good for George Welhaf Jr. His company, Green Eye Technology in Feasterville, sells high-end underground shelters to customers who think they might eventually need to live — in style — beneath the Earth’s surface for as long as five years. These aren’t your father’s bomb shelters: The fiberglass modules run from $150,000 for a modest family unit up to many millions for fancier models. For one client in West Virginia, Green Eye buried a dome 60 feet in diameter and two stories high, containing a 25-seat movie theater, office space, and tunnels to kitchen and bedroom space for 25 people.
“We customized that installation, because our client didn’t actually need living space for 25. They only needed room for a husband, a wife and a dog,” says Welhaf, 60, who switched to underground shelters about five years ago, as his old business — building high-end homes (he was in Plasterers’ Union Local 8 for about 20 years) — grew stagnant.
Welhaf counts it as a good career move. “We’ve done work for music industry executives and stars, for sports figures — really, really well-known people,” he says. Of course, he won’t name names. “We don’t even keep the records of our clients in the building. They’re at my lawyer’s because of confidentiality.” One client, Welhaf says, went so far as to fly the whole installation crew from the U.S. to Australia so as not to tip off any fellow Aussies. Others get creative in camouflaging the entrances to their subterranean lairs. “One fellow set it up like a little cemetery,” Welhaf recalls. The trapdoor? A remote-control hatch hidden among prop tombstones.
So, um, what do these people know that we don’t? “I pretty much try to stay away from asking why. I try not to build on their concerns,” Welhaf says. “By the time someone calls, the level of concern is there. I don’t need to convince anybody.” Green Eye advertises in upscale magazines like the duPont Registry and Robb Report, but the best marketing, he says, is done for him — “CNN, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, with all this Armageddon stuff, Nostradamus.”
In the end, though (so to speak), Welhaf is an optimist, a survivalist only when it comes to his business, which he runs with his two sons. “I don’t live every day worrying,” he says. “It’s hard to build a business that you hope will have a long-term future if you think the world is going to end in 2012.”