By Carol Tannenhauser
Stationery & Toy World has made it through some enormous challenges over the years, but its latest might be the most difficult. A price-gouging charge from the city has left the store in a precarious financial position, and the owner is asking for help navigating a bureaucracy she says misunderstood her actions.
Donna Schofield, who owns Stationery and Toy World on 72nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, prides herself on having everything her customers want. One was quoted in Manhattan Sideways as saying, “It does not matter what I am looking for, I always stop by Stationery and Toys first, certain that I will find what I need.” During the lockdown, the store was officially deemed “essential.”
“It was because of my office supplies,” Donna said, in a recent phone interview, “People were working at home. A lot of other stores had to close and I didn’t, so I really feel fortunate. I think if I had to close that would have been the breaking point.”
Instead, Donna pivoted. “I brought in, you know, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, wipes, Lysol, all that stuff. I never sold it before. I was trying to do the neighborhood a service and make some money to pay my overhead. That was right in the middle of the lockdown and there was no hand sanitizer locally to be had. I bought some in California and had it shipped. I paid $9.00 a bottle and sold it for $12.99.
“What happened was, in May, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (now called the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection) came in and fined us for price gouging,” Donna said. “I sent them a letter explaining how much I had paid for the sanitizer.” But that wasn’t the problem. On March 16, 2020, the city had capped price increases on “any personal or household good or any service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat the new coronavirus (COVID-19),” it said in a press release. Donna had raised her prices by more than 40%.
“First of all, there was no way I even knew about the 10%!” she protested. “50% is a normal markup for this neighborhood. Second, I’d never gouge the Upper West Side!”
Thomas Drugs, on Columbus Avenue, between 67th and 68th Streets, was also fined for price gouging, in April, 2020. At that time, WSR interviewed the manager, who echoed Donna’s words. “They are not understanding,” he said. “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.”
It didn’t matter; after more than a year of fighting it, a judge decided last week to deny Donna’s appeal of the charges. “Not only that, but he ended up fining me full blown,” she said. “$12,475.00 — $350.00 for every bottle I had.”
“I’m in the hole for a hundred thousand dollars,” she said, her voice quavering. “That’s how bad it is. I keep saying to myself, It’s going to turn around, you know? I bought all back-to-school stuff, because everyone felt that these kids would go back to school. Now, on Staten Island where I live, there’s such an uptick….”
We are awaiting a response from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
Thanks to Lese Dunton, who alerted us to this story.
Correction: Donna charged $12.99 for the hand sanitizer, not $13.99 as we originally quoted.
Update: A “Go Fund Me’ page has been set up for Donna and her store. Here’s the link: