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A Tennessee man hoarded over 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer to resell them at higher prices

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.

A Tennessee man hoarded over 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer to resell them at higher prices
Image Source: Shelves normally stocked with hand wipes, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper sit empty at a Target store on March 13, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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.


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."


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?'"


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.




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."


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."


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.


"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."



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