On June 8, 2020, WFMZ and the Reading Eagle reported that our store had reached an agreement with the Attorney General relating to the sale of a small quantity of medical masks at our store. Neither we, nor our attorney, were contacted by WFMZ or the Reading Eagle for comment with respect to their reporting. We would like to let our customers know a little more about the situation, through which we were accused and admitted to the technical act of price gouging.
With the striking of the pandemic in late March 2020, we, as Nature’s Garden, wanted to do what we could to protect the health and safety of our community, as has been our mission since 1977. Protective N95 masks were difficult, if not impossible, to come by during this period. Through supply chains, we were able to acquire masks overseas to provide to our customers at a price well above what the wholesale price should have been. We purchased them anyway. We were price gouged by our overseas mask supplier; however, we paid this price, as we thought it essential to make these masks available to our customers and our community, which included doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers, many of whom had no other means of acquiring masks. In selling them, we charged a price commensurate with the inflated price we needed to pay to acquire the masks.
In Pennsylvania, it is the technical act of price gouging if an item is sold during a state of emergency for a price 20% more than its price prior to the state of emergency. Therefore, due to the excessive price we needed to pay to acquire the masks for our community, we were in technical violation of the law. Fortunately, we resolved the matter with the Attorney General’s Office through an agreement, which includes our agreement to issue a refund for customers who purchased the masks through the Attorney General’s Office. We also agreed to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office in any investigation of the overseas supplier of the masks. We hope that the Attorney General’s Office will follow-through with such an investigation.
It is our mission to continue serving our community and to always protect the health and well-being of our customers at the most reasonable price possible. In this case, we felt our duty to supply masks in short supply outweighed the fact that the price needed to be higher due to the additional costs we needed to pay to obtain the masks to sell. Unfortunately, due to our agreement with the Attorney General’s Office, we will no longer be able to supply masks as we cannot acquire masks at a price lower than the limit at which we can sell masks.
We would like to thank you for taking the time to understand the whole story and not the story reported by WFMZ and the Reading Eagle based solely on a short press release from the Attorney General’s Office. We will always continue to do our best to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of our community. We tried in this instance and we failed as we did not understand the specifics of the price gouging law, and how we could be held responsible even if we were not attempting to make an inflated profit. Hopefully the price of supplying masks will lower and we will be able to supply masks again in the near future.