NYC is seeking more than $100,000 in fines across three stores in Queens and Manhattan for allegedly hiking up prices of sanitary supplies like hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, and cough medicine.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Lorelei Salas announced they would file three lawsuits against "repeat price gougers"—an issue residents have seen across the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across the three stores, the department had issued 203 violations against the businesses, according to a press release. Violations range from selling hand sanitizer for $20 a bottle to selling a single N95 mask for $45, according to summonses.
The city is seeking $12,000 for 24 violations from Burns Pharmacy and $20,000 for 40 violations from Thomas Drugs. Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester Street was slapped with 139 violations worth $69,500 in fines.
DCWP Commissioner Salas declared face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes in short supply early March. An emergency NYC rule issued March 16th for two months marks price hikes of at least 10 percent as illegal—a specific price point New York State lawmakers have introduced legislation to codify as excessive price gouging in state law.
"Taking advantage of New Yorkers in a crisis is unacceptable," de Blasio said in a statement. "Don't even think about price gouging in our city."
At the Manhattan store on Hester Street, Hong Kong Supermarket, operators allegedly displayed hand-sanitizer wipes for $38 per tube. A slew of various types of masks were sold for up to $180 per box of 50 on March 13th, the summons against the supermarket reads.
Several days later, a single N95 mask was on sale for $45, according to the summons. 4-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer were priced at $20 to $23.
50 surgical masks are typically $12 to $20 a pack, according to the summons. 4-ounce hand sanitizer bottles range from $1 to $3.
Calls to a number listed for the Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester Street went unanswered on Wednesday.
On March 27th, Burns Pharmacy on Burns Street near 68th Avenue in Flushing was caught selling 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer at $20 a bottle—up from regular estimated prices of $3 to $10, according to a summons.
A customer earlier last month bought a pack of 20 face masks for $100 from the store, which would typically cost $10 to $20 a pack.
Burns Pharmacy did not immediately respond to a voicemail message.
At Thomas Drugs on the Upper West Side, N95 masks were being sold for $10 to $20 each in mid-March, up from $1 to $5 a mask, depending on the type, according to a summons issued against the Upper West Side drugstore.
Khaja Khateeb, the owner of Thomas Drugs, said by phone he wasn't aware of a new filing against him yet, and said that city inspectors had provided him documentation showing summonses had been withdrawn as well as a clean inspection on the third visit. A spokesperson for the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection said previous summonses had been waived and the lawsuit, served April 6th, had replaced former violations. Khateeb didn't respond to an email regarding the new filing against his store.
These three cases will go through the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) process. Businesses can show comparable supply chain price increases to justify their price points to avoid the violations, according to the city.
Commissioner Salas encouraged New Yorkers to report price gouging to 311.
"If you continue to knowingly take advantage of customers, shame on you!" Salas said in a statement.