Capitalism is alive and well in Wall Township.
Around 9 a.m. Sunday, just hours after Hurricane Irene had knocked out power to 130,000 Monmouth County residents – 3,700 in town alone -- two box trucks from Ohio arrived at Colfax Plaza on Belmar Boulevard.
They parked in the front of the lot, nearest the road. It was for visibility, you see, because inside those trucks were hundreds of gas-powered generators – possibly the only power generators for miles around.
And the trucks attracted a crowd: A big, long, continually growing, crowd of customers, mainly Wall residents who were unsure how long the power outage would last and who were desperate for lights and refrigeration for their food.
“That’s American capitalism at its best,’’ said township resident Mike Carr, who cued up to buy one of the generators. “
Carr, himself out of power since 11 p.m. Saturday, said he was taking the 4,000-watt generator he bought for $550 to a friend up north had no way to power a sump pump and water was rising.
Not long after noon, a Wall police officer arrived. There was a hush, and a palpable fear that the make-shift storefront would be shut down.
The officer asked for the identification of a svelte blonde woman with a ponytail who was receiving customers at the rear of one of the trucks. The woman showed the officer some papers, and then produced an Ohio driver’s license, which the officer took back to his car as generator sales continued.
The woman’s name is Meg Shanklin. She’s been selling generators out of a box trucks for 10 years, at different locations throughout the country, she said.
It’s a simple recipe, she said: When there’s a storm, people lose power. They need generators. She finds the locations, opens the box truck. And that’s pretty much that.
“It’s a hobby,’’ Shanklin said. “I love business.’’
And business was booming Sunday.
Shanklin, whose box trucks were emblazoned with the name “Generator City’’ was running a well-oiled machine.
She had display modes set up in the parking lot. Three different sizes of generators – 12,000-watt, 8,000-watt and the most popular 4,000-watt model – were for sale.
There were several assistants who demonstrated the models, unloaded the boxes from the trucks and loaded them into customers’ vehicles.
They were also available to answer questions about the products. Each was dressed in a green t-shirt with the name of the company and the tagline: “On-site Generator Sales Across The Nation.’’
Everyone waiting in line received a business card, on which was printed a telephone number and a website address – mygeneratorsfast.com -- both of which were also written in block letters on the side of each of the trucks.
On the back of the card, a pricelist. Generators were going for $1,299, $999, and $550, respectively. To ease payment, Shanklin accepted Visa or MasterCard.
“They seem legit,’’ said Johnson Street resident Doug Berry, who bought a 4,000-watt generator from Shanklin. “They’ve got business cards, a website, a telephone number. It’s all written on the side of the trucks.”
A call to the phone number -- (866) 505-5857 -- on Monday was answered by a secretary for "Fun Services," a company Shanklin said she also owns.
The secretary said Generator City would be operating Monday and Tuesday at Colfax Plaza and said that any problems with a generator bought there that are discovered after Tuesday could be reported to her using the telephone number on the business card and Shanklin would be contacted to assist.
The business' website, however, is not operational.
The domain name -- the internet address -- is registered to Shanklin and gives the email address email@example.com, according to Network Solutions, the company that tracks domain name registrations.
It lists Shanklin as the administrative contact and the technical contact, giving the physical address of 6060 Executive Blvd. Dayton, Ohio 45424.
Berry and his wife, Lynn, were out checking on other things when they saw the commotion in the parking lot. They, too, lost power around 11 p.m. Saturday.
“We just stumbled on this,’’ Lynn Johnson said. “We came for coffee (at the convenience store in the plaza) and left with a generator.’’
Wall resident Joe Whalen had fewer qualms about Shaklin’s operation. He bought two, 4,000-watt generators. He paid with credit and loaded them into a pickup truck.
Michael Paterno, of Interlaken, was impressed by Shanklin’s operation.
“That’s something, isn’t it?’’ Paterno said. “It’s a great idea.’’
He was out checking on a house he owns in Spring Lake when he found Shanklin’s box trucks. He said the 4,000-watt generator he bought is going to help pump several inches of water from the basement of his home, which is without power.
Carr said he thought the generators were marked up a little high. He had priced the models prevously and said the price of each of Shanklin's generators was $100 to $200 higher than you could get in stores. If stores had them, that is.
“If I didn’t need it, I wouldn’t be standing here,’’ he said.
A few minutes later, the officer who was running Shanklin’s credentials emerged from his squad car. He handed Shanklin back her identification card. They exchanged pleasantries, and the officer left.
And sales continued.