Bond’s the name

Travis Guthrie

Photo By Larry Dalton

Most of what we know about the spy comes from films and television. You’ve seen them: Those terminally suave gents tooling around in Aston Martins, pursuing diabolical international villains with relentless vigor while getting horizontal with the world’s most beautiful women in their off time. Of course, the reality is far less glamorous; remember the lonely character Gene Hackman portrayed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 thriller The Conversation? Anyway, spies—007 or mundane—need a place to buy the tricks of the trade. At 8317 Folsom Blvd., between a VCR repair shop and a Stop and Shop mini-mart, sits Fox’s Spy Outlet. It’s one of four stores—owner Ken Fox also has outlets in Las Vegas, Portland and Bellevue, Wash. They carry some interesting hardware, and manager Travis Guthrie gave us the inside skinny on some of Fox’s merchandise.

Were you into this kind of thing before you came to work here?

Not really. I knew about the store because I’ve known Ken, the owner, for six, seven years. I’d been down here once or twice just to see what he did. Now that I’ve been in here and learned about all the equipment—it’s real neat stuff, and you learn how it works. It’s kinda fun to get people in here and explain to them how it works, and they [say] “Oh, wow!”

How did you get into this line of work?

I knew the owner. We attend the same church. He lost a couple of guys who’d quit, who got different job offers, and he needed some people. So I’m here, probably until May; I’m leaving on a mission for my church for two years. I’m managing the store until I take off.

What do most people come in here looking for?

Pinhole cameras for surveillance, for businesses or homes, are a big thing. Telephone-recording systems are, also. A lot of people who think their husband or wife is being unfaithful, or they think their teenager is selling drugs out of their house, that kind of thing—they can hook up a telephone recorder in their house, and monitor and record both sides of a conversation.

You’ve got some pretty exotic stuff here. What’s up with that ninja grappling hook?

I’ve never seen one of those sell. That’s just kind of something we keep in stock—a James Bond-type thing.

What’s your biggest-selling item?

That would be a draw between the cameras and the voice recorders. The rest of this stuff sells, but our two main items are the cameras and the telephone recording systems. Stun guns, pepper spray, that kind of stuff goes real quick. The counter-measure stuff—bug detection, video-recorder detection, units to stop phone taps—basically, that kind of equipment is something a private investigator would use, if you hired a P.I. to come into your house and sweep for a bug. We sell to them, or some people come in and buy the stuff themselves and use it, instead of paying a P.I. by the hour.

What about those stun guns?

The stun guns also sell quite well. I think I might have sold one to a guy, but mostly [we sell them] to women. I’ve probably had six go out of here in the past week. They’re just like pepper sprays—they’re legal to carry without registration, so that makes them real nice. We’ve tested them all, some of the employees and I, just to find out … well … we were bored one day. And the one that we’ve probably sold the most of is the 500,000-volt one. That one, just a tap will knock you down. It’s not big, but that’s the most amount of voltage. We’re getting in a new one that’s 625,000 [volt]. We’re going to try it on ourselves and see how it sells.

Do you ever get any shady-looking guys coming in for those lock picks?

For the lock picks, we scan their driver’s licenses and keep a copy on file for a year. It’s kind of up to us if we want to sell it to them. I’ve had two guys in here this morning who were locksmiths that were looking at stuff like that. And a lot of people buy them just for the fun of it. Some of them are retired and just need something to do. So they’ll come in and pick that up as a hobby—'cause it’s a skill; it takes a long time to learn how to do it and get good at it.

And you have all these safes disguised as pantry items, like cans of soup?

The can safes are popular around Christmastime. They’re a fun little item. Some of them have the real product in the top [half]—the coffee, the Ajax, the Pringles. We had shaving cream once that actually worked. And the bottom half screws off. It’s just a fun little way to hide stuff. A diversion safe, that’s what they call it.

This pinhole camera—what would I do with it?

They’re meant to be concealed. They’re just video, no audio. And so something like that, all it needs is that size of a hole. So you could put that behind a wall with just that hole showing. This hard wire you just clip on the back and it will split out into these cords—the DC power cord you plug into the wall, and the others into any VCR or TV with a video in it.

How about this clock radio?

The clock radio’s a real cool camera. You can buy that down at JCPenney for 30 or 40 bucks; it’s a real clock radio. Everything works—the display works, the radio, the alarm. And it’s been taken apart by an engineer, and the camera’s been mounted inside behind the lens, so it’s undetectable. And then you plug that into the wall like a normal radio. And the camera is wireless, so it’ll transmit up to 300 feet away to a little receiver that you hook up to your VCR and you can get live pictures. And we can [mount] these wireless cameras in just about anything—smoke detectors, you name it.

What are these high-frequency dog repellers?

Oh, the dog tazer? That emits a high-pitched noise. It’s basically a dog deterrent. If you’re out on a jog and you’re worried about dogs, you can carry something like that. You just hit the little button, and it sends out a high ultrasound frequency that we can’t pick up, but the dogs can. And it really bugs them.