Thomas Drugs Fined For Alleged Price Gouging; Manager Blames Rising Wholesale Prices

By Carol Tannenhauser

Thomas Drugs, on Columbus Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets, was fined by the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for allegedly price gouging, the Daily News reported on Wednesday. Gueye Damm, who has managed the drugstore for 26 years, denied the allegations to WSR, though Thomas did have to lower some of its prices.

“Thomas Drugs is facing $20,000 in fees for 40 alleged instances of price gouging face masks, gloves and cough medicine…” the News reported. “…the department said it’s actively inspecting stores, issuing fines for markups of 10% or more on vital supplies like disinfectants, soap, cleaning products and medicine.”

“They are not understanding,” Damm said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Our primary wholesalers are completely out of stock of every single thing, so we have to go to the secondary wholesalers who are more expensive. Now, if you are buying something from the wholesaler, it’s $10 instead of $5. You have to do it. It’s a matter of getting things for the neighborhood. People are desperate. If I’m selling at a 30%-40% markup, that’s routine, that’s UWS prices.”

Damm marveled at how his public image could change so quickly from hero to villain. “The other night we were on CNN about how we’re putting our lives in jeopardy by opening the store,” he said. “The next day it was this. It really hurts you. We never closed in all these last weeks trying to serve the community. I’m exhausted. Every day when I come in, I pray to God to keep me safe. It’s not easy.”

Damm added that the department had returned to reinspect Thomas Drugs on Monday and “gave us a clean sheet.”

NEWS | 53 comments | permalink
    1. Dolores Del Río says:

      Isn’t it strange that only Thomas Pharmacy faced rising wholesale prices and none of the hundreds of other pharmacies in New York City that managed to avoid price gouging? They should close up shop for good.

    2. jules says:

      Of course… This is a given. We’re going to see all prices for food etc start to increase for the same reason.

    3. Joan Lurie says:

      He has been price gouging since the very beginning of the pandemic. I am pleased he was fined and hope he learned a lesson.

    4. Annie says:

      They sold me rubbing alcohol for $14. Then one day we were in the store and saw a box of rubbing alcohol with white $1 price tags; the bottles had not yet been repriced with orange high prices. We took two out of the box to take to the register, and the cashier seemed to mouth “I am sorry” to her boss while letting us but them at the $1 price.

    5. Spock says:

      Very unfortunate that whomever reported Thomas Drugs did not consider what Thomas Drugs is perhaps being charged by wholesalers who are marking up their prices, the time required to locate these very scarce items from wholesalers nor considered that perhaps a few lives have been saved because of the availability of disinfectants, masks and gloves.

    6. I am a doctor practicing on the Upper West Side for 26 years. Thomas Drugs is one of our last remaining small pharmacies and have always been there to help manage patient’s prescriptions, procure items on backorder, deliver when necessary, assist patients with insurance coverage, and now, in this awful time of emergency, keep coming in at great personal risk to supply much needed service to the community. Even though my own office is open for urgent and emergent care only, I have already run out of my normal supply of gloves and masks. When I tried to order from my usual suppliers, they were either out of stock or twice the normal price. Please be understanding of this supply situation and do not make it more difficult for our local essential businesses to provide much needed care.

      • JoeJS says:

        Thank you for defending this small business that is staying open and serving our community. I’ve been getting my prescriptions here for 20 years and they know me and help me when I need it. For the reader who wrote that he only goes to CVS or Duane Reade- Oscar Insurance dropped them and you can’t get your prescriptions covered. Not that I would want to- I’m more than happy supporting Thomas Drugs and the personalized service I get from all who work there!

        • William L Baraket says:

          The GREATEST and FRIENDLIEST pharmacy on the UWS! I have been a customer for over twenty years – they are always there for me and help in any way they can. Do not villainize a great group of people going above and beyond during this unprecedented trying time in our nation’s history.

    7. Suzie E says:

      Okay, so how many people are going to get to the end of this story to find out that the complaint was removed? Is that any way to treat an innocent business?

      OR, were they “given a clean sheet” because they’d merely lowered inflated prices, and were maybe actually guilty as charged? I find that very difficult to believe, having appreciated their low prices more than once, but I can’t arrive at that conclusion with what is presented.

      Editor!?

      • Bob says:

        It wasn’t removed, it was converted to a lawsuit — and no further fines were imposed when they came around for a further visit, but that just means they didn’t find any new violations.

        As for whether this was price-gouging, it’s a tricky thing factually so I wouldn’t rush to judgment. Maybe he was just passing along the cost, and the alternative would be to be out of stock (as most places were). Or maybe he was ripping people off. Just no way to know without looking at the evidence.

    8. Runners.High says:

      He totally gouged me a few weeks ago. I went there wanting to support a local mom and pop shop. I bought a few items: allergy med and hand sanitizer and candy. The total was about $80. I was dumbfounded. I asked for an itemized receipt, in addition to the credit card customer receipt which just had the total charge, and he said he wasn’t able to give me one.

      • Gilligan says:

        Ridiculous. It’s impossible to be ‘gouged’. Why didn’t you just walk out if you didn’t like the prices? You have free will, and there are plenty of other places that sell candy and allergy medicine, including another Mom and Pop pharmacy on 72nd and Columbus. If you desperately needed these items, then you could’ve walked four blocks to the other pharmacy, five blocks to Pioneer, or over to Broadway and shopped at Duane Reade. ‘I was gouged!’ No you weren’t – you voluntarily paid for your items.

    9. Your neighbor says:

      “If I’m selling at a 30%-40% markup, that’s routine, that’s UWS prices.” In this time of COVID-19 you could put a lesser mark-up (or none) on at least the increase. Do the math. You are making more money by gouging. IMHO Help your neighbors. Have a little humanity.

      • Christine E says:

        Stores are not keeping that 30-40% markup. They have to pay workers, rent, taxes, utilities, … And in the time of corona their expenses increase (delivery service, sick workers have to be covered with other staff, higher cleaning costs, etc.)

    10. arlene fauser says:

      Everyone who goes to this pharmacy understands it a small, local and community minded business in competition with CVS ect. I’ve been going there for 20 years and they are simply the nicest, most helpful, & supportive group I know. I would never go elsewhere.
      So many times they have gone above and beyond to serve me or assist w/ a call or prescription.

    11. Lauren Lese says:

      Thomas drugs should be given the benefit of the doubt. They are a neighborhood store and yes their prices might be a bit higher than the big chains but it is totally worth it for the individual service and attention you get there. I believe the manager – they were operating in good faith and the markups were appropriate. This is the kind of store we want in our neighborhood and I find it disheartening that others are so quick to condemn in these difficult and complicated times.

    12. George says:

      I’ve noticed Gristedes is also doing something weird with prices (or maybe this has always the case). About half of the items in my basket yesterday were more expensive at the register than the price listed on the shelves. If they were just mistakes, it was never in the other direction. 59¢ can of tomato sauce rang up as 79¢. Seasoning marked as $3.79 rang up around $4.29. Beans marked at $1.79 were $2.29. And so on. Really frustrating considering their prices are already quite high.

    13. UWSHebrew says:

      Mom & Pop pharmacies are outdated. I have not gone to one in many years. I don’t recall having any kind of problem at any CVS or Duane Reade, including for prescribed medication. And for all who would say “I’ve been coming here for forty years! The pharmacist knows my name and always asks me how I am!”, if that’s your reason to keep going, you are to be pitied.

      • stevieboy says:

        Wow, you never miss an opportunity to be a jerk, do you “UWSHebrew”?

        But what should I expect from the biggest Trump fan on the UWS.

        I wonder what gives you the right to be such a judgmental person. Let go of some of that anger and you might be happier living among the liberals and older folks on the UWS.

        Nobody needs your “pity” here.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          I’m a jerk for stating the obvious? Guess what, I think horses pulling people on a carriage is outdated as well. I’m all for Mom and Pop stores — who wouldn’t be, they are the lifeblood of the American middle-class —, but propping up pharmacies when efficient chains do a fine job overall does not make sense, to yes, this non-liberal (for the record, I disagree with many of the behaviors of Trump, for example I cringe at the way he expresses himself during the daily press briefings). So! If a pharmacy is indeed price-gouging, who cares? Leave the store.

          • stevieboy says:

            Your arrogance and lack of self-awareness is astounding.

            No offense, but I am really glad I don’t know you in real life. Having said that, I hope you and yours are doing well during this dangerous and uncertain time.

      • Parker says:

        “How Chaos at Chain Pharmacies Is Putting Patients at Risk”

        NY Times, January 31, 2020

        https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/health/pharmacists-medication-errors.html

    14. UWSider says:

      Thomas Drugs has been wonderful during this period. I’m at high risk for catching the virus—which the pharmacist knows because he knows ME personally, unlike pharmacists at Walgreens or CVS. Because I did not want to be in this small space longer than necessary, staff did my shopping for me, took my payment over the phone, and packed up everything for me so I could run in and out quickly. This is a long-standing small business in an era of megastores, their costs are proportionally higher, and we are lucky to have them in the neighborhood.

    15. Laura Ingalls says:

      Ajo Ace Hardware wanted $4.99 for one roll of Bounty Paper towels. That’s price gouging.

    16. UWSmom says:

      I am against “gouging” but the threshold and definition seem out of touch with reality and is another example of excessive governance.

      A 10% markup is not gouging — it can be normal price fluctuation. The price of a container of strawberries at the same store can vary by 50% or more from week to week (Gristedes blueberries are now $10!). No one should be reporting bananas at a fruit stand that go from 20 cents one week to 25 cents another (25% increase).

      Stores generally do a pass-through based on what their suppliers/wholesalers charge. Given that many supply chains are disrupted by the pandemic, there will be scarcity that drives up the price of various goods, particularly for anything imported or for anything medical/health/cleaning related (and this is another reason to buy local goods whose distribution is less affected by global trade). There should be some tolerance for normal price fluctuation, and the fines should apply to the point on the supply chain that is doing the gouging, not at the retail level only. The “clean sheet” that Thomas Drugs now has may reflect that.

    17. Judi De says:

      I’m so sorry this happened. I love Thomas Drugs, they have help Me out so many times and are a neighborhood gem.

    18. Kay McFadden says:

      WSR: Please dig a little to let us know how the city determines price gouging.

      Do inspectors look at the wholesale prices that the business paid for certain items and then what the retail was to customers?
      Or does the city use some kind of average pricing sheet to determine over-charging?

    19. KB says:

      I so agree price gouging is reprehensible. But like Dr Kanevsky, I’ve used Thomas for years, they’ve been exemplary.

      I have even seen them close the store in honor of a client who died. These are brutal times, and to ALL who go out and risk their lives to help us, I am deeply grateful. These pharmacists are working 20 hours a day, day in and out, and are under unimaginable stress just by being there. I hope this can be resolved … kindly

    20. Wendy says:

      Thomas drugs is irreplaceable. Thomas and his wonderful staff are to be applauded- I always like to think they do the right thing because there has never been a reason not to. Not in 20 years. Thank goodness he is open. Thomas, my family loves you

    21. Oldtime Westsiders says:

      Just want to add a bit of support for Thomas Drugs. We’re neighbors who’ve been going there for 20 years and we use it precisely because we are treated with care and kindness and respect. Probably all stores could be more transparent about what some shortages have done to their wholesale prices, but Thomas stayed open when others closed and we have faith that they are not profiteering.

    22. Mike F. says:

      Glad to see this! I asked him if he has hand sanitizer. He said no but I have masks And I have not even asked him for masks. Then he proceeded to take them out from under the counter. That’s a strange place to be selling things from. Hmmmm? Why weren’t they out on the shelf. The answer is because he was Charging $20 a mask when I ask him the price. I found out he was issued a violation on March 10 and was attempting to sell to me on the 13th or the 14th. I don’t remember the exact date but it was well after the 10th. They deserve what they get. Seems that their out the money not helping people in the neighborhood.

      • Sue says:

        Just about every place in the neighborhood has the masks (IF they ever have then) behind the counter – I have not seen any masks just out in plain sight.

    23. Ted Henning says:

      We have been a consistent customer at Thomas Drugs for over 20 years, and they have always been there for us ! Try getting the personalized service and care at Rite Aid or Duane Reade that everyone at Thomas Drugs gives their customers. It’s ridiculous to think that this caring business would then turn around and take advantage.

    24. Pete says:

      The Keyfood at 97st and Amsterdam. Does it also. Last week the medium size dozen of eggs were at $2.99 now this week its at $4.99.Same for those bread rolls. They were 3 for $1.29 now its just $1 each. They overcharge also. I been overcharged twice. To make matters worst. If you go round 4am, you can hear one of the cashiers has cough. Keyfood and others are taking advantage of this pandemic,because we need the food and sanitary supplies.

      • Zanarkand says:

        Egg prices from farms have gone up considerably due to extra demand since everyone is staying home for breakfast. Fortunately this isn’t a case of price gouging but just a supply demand issue from farms.

    25. Trevor Cook says:

      Thomas Drugs is a friendly, helpful local with an amazingly wide range of products of the type that has become all too rare on the UWS. I have shopped and filled prescriptions there regularly and have never experienced any behaviour on their part that I would criticise. I expect their prices to be higher than elsewhere, because of the convenience of where they are and the range of products that they stock. But anyway, even if the complaint were to have any foundation who is injured, as nobody is forced to buy there. This seems to be yet another law passed by politicians with suspect motivations and enforced selectively against small local businesses. Those of you who applaud it do not complain when the last small local business is forced out of the UWS.

    26. Sandra says:

      On March 14th I went to the Store to purchase 2 Lysol . That day I was busy packing my stuff to travel. When I went to pay , they charged me $32 . At that moment I questioned , and she he said I was buying the large one. Hours later I realized that he was gouging the price. I called them and the manager answered and said that no one was complaining and I was more than welcome to return them. I didn’t have enough time to return the merchandise because I traveled that evening. My husband always go there and it was a surprise that they was taking advantage of this moment!

      • HelenD says:

        And yet you got your two bottles of Lysol. I know so many people who are still unable to get the essentials they need, so I don’t understand why anyone here is complaining about the price of items that were AVAILABLE for purchase after the fact, especially if you had the means to shop somewhere else. 🙁

    27. oldtimeUWSer says:

      Our local leaders have never run a business of any kind, nevermind a small one in a pandemic. If they want to hassle small businesses trying to get product during what is essentially a famine-like situation, they should also demand that CVS, DuaneReade and other chains that have massive buying (and political) power keep these key items in stock, at any cost, even if it means diverting them from other less COVID-affected regions. Local chain drug stores have no hand and surface wipes, and are often out of stock on other cleaning products, they’ve also shortened their hours. Why not investigate that?

    28. Paul says:

      People should make it clear to store owners that we will remember who did and who did not take advantage during this crisis.

      When the same 8oz bottle of sanitizer is 2.79 on 90th Street and 10.00 at 84th, something is wrong and it’s not the wholesaler.

      And this “market” crap is crap. It’s in my Self-interest that you have sanitizer. If I’m worth a billion and can get as much as I want, I’m worse off if everyone else is in fact spreading disease. ‘Cause the virus doesn’t care.

    29. Sue says:

      I paid $9.99 for a bottle of hand sanitizer tonight. I thought it was a bit of a rip-off – but I had a choice to not buy it – but that’s been hard to find. And fortunately I had the money.

      I appreciate the fact that some of these workers are making the effort to come to work. So I’m happy to I wish I could find Lysol or Clorox wipes. Or any brand. THOSE I haven’t seen ANYWHERE.

    30. 57 years in the west 90s says:

      Errr twenty dollars for a mask is gouging, I am sorry to say.

      They were charging 5 dollars for these masks around 102nd st and broadway and the price in China is fifty cents. I believe those who say these are lovely people and provide good service but…. presumably at a time when many are overcharging there is a reason they were fined.

      Ideally, the world learns a lesson and when this is over the government decides to fund research, Subsidize vaccines, provide healthcare for all and add to the federal stockpile. That’s what’s needed. But in this crazy free for all that exists now fines for price gouging are the minimum.

    31. Nancy Beaer says:

      Meanwhile, eBay is pulling in big dollars by allowing the selling of the same items at300% increase. Shameful no one goes after them.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        I agree, ebay allows many disgusting behaviors which include blatant shill bidding (illegal), and I say this as a long time ebay user. Why ebay is given a pass on this from authorities is baffling.

        • lynn says:

          I’ve purchased a few things on eBay over the years, but I’m not sure if I ever came across any shill bidding. How do you know if/when it’s happening?

          • UWSHebrew says:

            You can click on any screen name that is bidding on an auction and see the percentage rate that that screen name has bid on items of that specific seller. If you see a number under 10%, that is a good sign. However, if you see a number over 10%, that generally indicates that the seller has either created a screen name to bid up his/her own items, or has a friend/relative that bids up their items. The exception of course are those auctions were the bidder screen names are “private”, which I NEVER bid on, as there is no reason whatsoever to have a private auction except if you want to bid on your own auctions! It’s really sick. Ebay does not care and actually encourages shill bidding as it just increases their profits. They will say “we have software that can detect shill bidding”, and that is just a flat out lie.

            • lynn says:

              Good to know! Thank you so much for the detailed info, I really appreciate it, and I’m saving it for future reference. : )

    32. Kristin says:

      I hope this drug store gets the benefit of the doubt. They are competing with huge supply chains and purchasing power which small independent businesses can’t utilize right now. Even some states (NY) have seen certain scarce supplies orders disappear to higher bidders so it’s not hard to believe they are paying a lot more for in demand products. Go ahead and complain to the authorities if you want only mega chains in the hood but at a time like this maybe you could just refrain and not finger-point out of misplaced righteousness. Let’s be kind today and leave all the judging for later. Try and stay safe everyone.

    33. cj Berk says:

      In the richest city, in the richest country, we New Yorkers can’t seem to get supplies. I’m not sure whether it’s the UWS or the entire city. Luckily, my friends from LA have been sending me masks and gloves. It’s been a real eye-opener how inadequate our city is. The UWS has no real supermarkets. Food Emporium would have been great about now. A Morton Williams in that location would have been perfect. Trader Joe is a mess with ridiculous lines and awful products. Fairway..well it lives on empty shelves and all. We are underserved here no doubt about it. No Ralph’s, no Publix, no Kroger, nothing.

    34. Seth Todd says:

      Our neighborhood is very fortunate to have the good people of Thomas Drugs. In my 20 years of being a customer, I’ve seen the good they do for me and my family. The professionalism and care they provide is a blessing for the community. Thanks for allowing me to share my positivity as an Upper West Sider.

    35. Nina Libani says:

      I love Thomas’ Drugs. Been in the neighbor for 29 years and don’t believe they are anything but a great neighborhood pharmacy. Honest and hard working.
      Thank you
      Nina

    36. Cindy Fanelli says:

      They have always been kind and helpful and an asset to our neighborhood. I believe they are honest If they were forced to pay higher prices in order to supply their customers, I do not believe that they should be penalized. These are difficult times and we should not be hurting good people even more that are doing there best to survive,