These pandemic profiteers have become internet pariahs.
Brothers Matt and Noah Calvin admit in a New York Times interview that they bought up all of the hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes that they could find across Tennessee and Kentucky after the first U.S. coronavirus death was reported on March 1, with the intent to resell them at a profit as public panic around COVID-19 kicked in. They cleaned out small shops and dollar stores, as well as Walmart , Staples and Home Depot and began listing their items on Amazon at a “substantial” markup.
The backlash to the interview grew so severe, however, that they’ve now donated their goods, even as the state attorney general’s office opens an investigation.
“It was crazy money,” Matt Colvin reportedly told the Times last week, revealing that his first 300 bottles of hand sanitizer sold out for between $8 and $70 apiece almost immediately – multiples of the prices he had paid for them. He also sold 2,000 50-packs of face masks on eBay for $40 to $50, sometimes higher. (In fact, the story notes that Colvin, a former Air Force technical sergeant, derives a six-figure income from selling Nike sneakers, pet toys and trending products on Amazon.)
But Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for hand sanitizers, face masks and wipes, the Times noted, to combat price gouging. EBay followed suit soon afterward, going as far as to ban all U.S. sales of face masks and hand sanitizer on its platform. So now the Colvin brothers have a garage filled with 17,700 bottles of sanitizer, with venues for selling them closed off, even as millions of their fellow Americans are frustrated in their attempts to get their hands on such items, while hospitals have resorted to rationing face masks as supplies have dwindled.
Related: Costco, BJ’s and Kroger sales boosted by demand for coronavirus-related items
Colvin reportedly said he doesn’t want to become infamous for hoarding. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”
Colvin initially defended his actions as solving “inefficiencies in the marketplace,” in that hawking these products for profit online potentially sends them to areas of the country where it’s harder to get them. “There’s a crushing, overwhelming demand in certain cities right now,” he explained. “The Dollar General in the middle of nowhere outside of Lexington, Ky., doesn’t have that.”
Now many on Twitter are blasting him and his brother for trying to make bank amid an outbreak that has sickened more than 2,100 Americans and killed 41 and counting, while globally the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching 150,000 diagnosed cases with 5,539 deaths.
“Amazon and eBay” were trending Saturday morning as some people praised the companies for cracking down on profiteers – while others complained that the sites haven’t done the same to combat price gouging in such vital medical supplies as insulin and EpiPen injections.
Read more:Tennessee man donates his almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer after furious backlash
The Times has since reported in a follow up piece that Colvin has donated two-thirds of his stockpile to a local church to be distributed across the state, while the Tennessee attorney general’s office took the other third to be distributed to their counterparts across Kentucky. Colvin reportedly expressed remorse in the follow-up interview, saying that, “It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them.” He explained that, “I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished.”
The Colvins certainly aren’t the only ones who saw the coronavirus as a business opportunity, of course.
Related:Why you shouldn’t use Tito’s Vodka to make hand sanitizer – or attempt to make your own hand sanitizer period This article was originally published on March 14, and has been updated with the report of the Colvins donating their supply.
An Ohio truck driver named Eric, who did not provide his last name, reportedly told the paper that he had snapped up about 10,000 face masks at retail stores. He paid about $20 for each 10-pack, and sold most of them for $80, with some priced at $125, he said, estimating that he made $35,000 to $40,000 in profit.
And a couple in Vancouver told the Toronto Star that they’ve made more than $100,000 reselling Lysol wipes.
The attorney general’s offices in California, Washington and New York are cracking down on price gouging, with New York tapping inmates to make hand sanitizer that will be distributed for free to the most impacted and high-risk communities in the Empire State, which has seen a serious outbreak in Westchester County. “To Purell and Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay, if you continue the price gouging, we will introduce our product, which is superior to your product,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.