When Long Islanders rushed to buy hand sanitizers to protect themselves against Covid-19 last month, the owners of the Franklin Square Pharmacy decided they would make and sell their own. But on March 30, co-owner Paul Quatro posted on the business’s Facebook page that it had been fined $5,000 for selling the homemade sanitizer at an inflated price.
Officials at the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs later confirmed to the Herald that a Franklin Square pharmacy had been fined for selling 2-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer for $7, without listing the ingredients. It was one of 85 violations the county had issued as of April 3.
“It was very disheartening to learn that people are unhappy with us,” Quatro wrote in the Facebook post. “We really are trying to, and will continue to be a rock during this uncertain time.”
Local officials have previously warned against price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill that would define price gouging as a 10 percent increase in a product’s price within two weeks before or after a crisis. The state currently defines price gouging as an “unconscionably excessive pricing of necessary consumer goods and services during any abnormal disruption of the market.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said early last month that county officials would start cracking down on businesses that “are trying to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak and sell products that are hard to find on shelves at exorbitant prices.”
“The county is partnering with federal and state officials to put an end to this unsavory practice,” Curran said. “Please report any instances of unfair price increases immediately to the county or the state so we can protect residents from falling victim and overpaying for essential consumer products.”
But Quatro wrote in the Facebook post that the sanitizers were priced at $7 because the cost of alcohol, as well as ingredients trolamine and propylene — an organic compound and fuel gas, respectively — went up during the outbreak, and the pharmacy had to buy the plastic bottles at retail price. Additionally, he said, all of the ingredients had to be certified by United States Pharmacopeia, and the sanitizer had to be made by a licensed pharmacist.
As a result, Quatro said, the pharmacy made “very little profit” from the sanitizer, and now that it had been fined, “we have definitely lost this endeavor.”
Quatro planned to fight the fine, he wrote on March 30, and noted that he understood why people were upset about the price. “I get it, a month ago two-ounce Purell was $1.99 and now it’s $6.99,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is [a] result of the times we are in, and not about price gouging.”
Following Quatro’s post on March 30, some residents expressed their shock that the pharmacy would be fined over the hand sanitizer. “I think it’s ridiculous that someone reported them for gouging when they were risking their lives to make the sanitizer for everyone else,” Trish Mariano said. Her sister-in-law, Gabrielle Mariano, said she had visited the pharmacy twice during the coronavirus outbreak, and thought, “They don’t deserve this.”
Gabrielle created a GoFundMe page on April 1 to help the store pay the fine, explaining to the Herald that she thought it might hurt the business financially, and “could be a big hit for them.”
But when other Franklin Square residents saw her online fundraiser, they commented that the pharmacy could pay the fine itself, and may have even deserved it. One said the pharmacy was not only selling hand sanitizer for $7, but also selling water at an exorbitant price. He called the fundraiser “ridiculous,” adding, “You don’t start a GoFundMe for someone that you personally like, to cover for them overcharging people who have been supporting them for years.”
Quatro shared the online fundraiser on the pharmacy’s Facebook page, writing that instead of being used to help pay the fine, donations would go toward coronavirus relief initiatives. “We will have our day in court at some point,” he said, “when everyone is back to work.”
After that, Gabrielle said, someone who donated $100 to the cause removed the donation and requested a refund, so she decided to delete the fundraiser. “Too many in the town disagreed with the GoFundMe,” she explained, “so I just decided in favor of the majority.”
But, she added, she still felt bad for the pharmacy for having to pay a fine. “They deserved the donations,” Gabrielle said. “I still feel that way.”
Briana Bonfiglio and Mike Smollins contributed to this story.