He is now being investigated by the Tennessee attorney general's office for price gouging and has faced severe backlash online for hoarding critical items in the current situation.
When the United States announced its first coronavirus death on March 1, it was a jarring wakeup call for most Americans about the fatal impact of the pandemic. For brothers, Matt and Noah Colvin, however, the announcement served as a neon sign pointing towards a lucrative business opportunity waiting to be grabbed. The duo immediately hit stores in Chattanooga, Tennessee, grabbing every last bottle of hand sanitizer they could find. Over the course of the next three days, Noah took a 1,300 mile road trip covering all of Tennessee and Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes.
Can't find hand sanitizer? Matt Colvin has 17,700 bottles of it.— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 14, 2020
He emptied stores across Tennessee, hoping to profit. Then Amazon pulled his listings for price gouging.
Now he's one of likely thousands of Amazon sellers sitting on stockpiles. My story:https://t.co/YPeXEot79a
In an interview with The New York Times published on Saturday, his brother revealed that Noah had cleaned out the shelves of "little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods" as "the major metro areas" were already sold out of these items. While one brother hit the stores, the other stayed home listing the items on Amazon. Colvin posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for anywhere between $8 and $70 each, stacking up a huge profit margin. To him, it was just "crazy money."
I'd also like to point out that if Matt Colvin were not a white man, this would be an entirely different story.— Elmira Bayrasli (@endeavoringE) March 14, 2020
However, the business boom didn't last long as the very next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes, and face masks to crack down on coronavirus-related price gouging. The move left Colvin with 17,700 unsellable bottles of hand sanitizer. "It’s been a huge amount of whiplash," he said. "From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to 'What the heck am I going to do with all of this?'"
Flabbergasted. This should be a story shaming. Yet, the @nytimes makes it a profile, w a photo spread, of someone putting his family "In a really good place financially" by hoarding hand sanitizer to sell at multiples above market price. https://t.co/52XEmwxaHQ pic.twitter.com/lNZHQtANIA— Elmira Bayrasli (@endeavoringE) March 14, 2020
With the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country shooting up in recent weeks and fear of the pandemic rising, Colvin's interview sparked intense outrage online. In next to no time, Colvin became a viral villain for hoarding critical supplies that many people desperately need during the outbreak. It's one thing to be an entrepreneur. It's another to be an exploiter, a supply squatter, whose greed surpasses the care or empathy for fellow human beings, tweeted @gary_kline. Another Twitter user, Brandy wrote: These are the type of people you don't want to be stuck with during a crisis for sure.
There is a special place in hell for hoarders of toilet paper and hand sanitizer or price gouging during this national emergy.— David Smock (@DavidSmockMedia) March 15, 2020
Can't stand ppl like this..buy up all of the supplies then drive up the prices. I'm glad amazon pulled his listings! Price gouging is illegal in some states, should be ALL states! There's good business and there's shady business. Don't be a shyster dikhole! #MattColvin pic.twitter.com/BN28FCu47t— ₮ⱤɄ 𓂀 (@EyeOfTru) March 14, 2020
Colvin's troubles didn't just end there. He is now being investigated by the Tennessee attorney general's office for price gouging. He also received a cease-and-desist letter as Tennessee has a price-gouging law that bars people from charging "unreasonable prices for essential goods and services, including gasoline, in direct response to a disaster." Colvin, however, previously stated that he doesn't believe he was price gouging. Current price-gouging laws "are not built for today’s day and age," he said in the interview. "They’re built for Billy Bob’s gas station doubling the amount he charges for gas during a hurricane. Just because it cost me $2 in the store doesn’t mean it’s not going to cost me $16 to get it to your door."
Matt Colvin in Hixson, TN bought 18,000 bottles of sanitizer before the shortage surrounding COVID-19.— Hunter Hoagland (@HunterHoagland) March 14, 2020
He admits to cleaning out stores in multiple states— intending to sell for profit on Amazon.
Amazon took down his listings— he says he is considering donating. @WRCB pic.twitter.com/hfg8j0u43g
As for the morality of hoarding critical supplies in the midst of a pandemic, Colvin stated at the time that he was simply fixing inefficiencies in the marketplace. "I honestly feel like it’s a public service," he said. "I’m being paid for my public service." Ironically, the 36-year-old former Air Force technical sergeant added: "If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine. 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."
WATCH: “Would you say you’re sorry?”— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 15, 2020
*LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE*
“NO, I don’t think I would.”
Matt Colvin of HIXSON, TN has no remorse about buying up all the hand sanitizer in the vicinity with the intent to PRICE-GOUGE ON AMAZON. pic.twitter.com/pZ1H66tfe5
24 hours after the interview was published, Colvin was singing a different tune. Following the nationwide outrage, he donated all of his stockpile of hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes on Sunday. While two-thirds went to a local church, the rest was collected by officials from the Tennessee attorney general’s office with the aim of giving them to their counterparts in Kentucky for distribution. Expressing remorse for his actions in another interview, Colvin claimed he didn’t realize the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak or the severe shortage of sanitizer and wipes when he decided to hoard the items.
HAPPENING NOW: Matt did not answer our calls so we went to his storage unit. The AG’s office was on the scene facilitating with the donation. This is the 3rd stop they’ve been to this morning to gather the sanitizer. @WRCB https://t.co/SLOaEwJLOj pic.twitter.com/REJPNhiSbS— Hunter Hoagland (@HunterHoagland) March 15, 2020
"I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now. There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf. When we did this trip, I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished," he said. "It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them. That’s not who I am as a person. And all I’ve been told for the last 48 hours is how much of that person I am."
Update: Matt Colvin donated all 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer.— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 15, 2020
He gave two-thirds to a local church, which will distribute to people in need across Tennessee.
The other third went to Kentucky officials to distribute. (Some bottles were bought there.)https://t.co/C4dw7QpkiR
Matt has also been flooded with hate mail and death threats. He shared some truly awful ones with me that threatened his wife and children. And a man showed up banging at his door late last night.— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 15, 2020
Regardless of what people think of his actions, this stuff is disgraceful.