GoFundMe Started for Stationery and Toy World As City Details Charges

The store is 33 years old.

By Carol Tannenhauser

On Monday morning, Donna Schofield, the owner of Stationery and Toy World, a longstanding, family-owned business on West 72nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, will go down to lower Broadway, to the office of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), to work out a payment schedule for the $12,475 fine she incurred in May, 2020, for price gouging.

DCWP emailed WSR the following background and explanation of the charges.

In March 2020, DCWP promulgated an emergency Rule under the City’s Consumer Protection Law that made price gouging illegal for any personal or household good or service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19. In May 2020, DCWP extended the Rule for an additional 60 days and, as part of the extension, proposed a new permanent Rule that contemplates future emergencies. The permanent Rule now makes price gouging illegal for any products or services essential to health, safety and welfare during a declared state of emergency. Stores cannot charge consumers 10 percent or more above the price at which the same or similar good or service could have been obtained by consumers in the City of New York 30-60 days prior to the declaration of the state of emergency…. If businesses are paying more to obtain these items themselves, they must provide proof to DCWP and any increase must be comparable. If a business paid $2 more per item, they cannot charge customers $50 more.

The fine for price gouging is up to $500 per item or service.

The bulk of Donna’s fine is for selling hand sanitizer — 33 bottles that she purchased at $9.00 each and sold at $12.99. Unaware of the new rule, Donna said, she used her normal markup of 30 to 50%. Two people complained. DCWP sent an investigator, and a judge in the city’s administrative court found Donna guilty and levied a fine of $350.00 for every bottle of sanitizer she had sold. Donna is straightforward about her motives: “I wanted to provide a service to the neighborhood and pay my overhead.”

The comments WSR received regarding Donna’s story — and store — were overwhelmingly positive. A few complained about her “high prices,” and one called her “a New York sharpie” who knew very well what she was doing. Read her story, or better yet, take a walk over to Stationery and Toy World, talk to her, and decide for yourself.

Following is a link to the Go Fund Me that was set up for Donna and her store by one of her longtime sales reps, Dan Hammer, who called the fine “a crime for someone that wears her heart on her sleeve in this Upper West Side neighborhood. I’ve been selling toys to Donna since the late 1980’s,” he wrote to WSR. “She’s a great person. She gets along well with the other sales reps, her employees, and you should see her with her customers. It’s the only store that I sell to that feels like Cheers (the old NBC show). You just sort of want to hang out there. As I said in my message, she wears her heart on her sleeve.”

https://www.gofundme.com/f/small-mom-and-pop-needs-your-help-in-new-york qid=a35edc5608720a79d14e85bc8e356c1a

The DCWP received 12,500 complaints of price gouging during that period, according to Abigail Lootens, associate director of communications and marketing. “Our analysis of the complaints found that the neighborhoods with the most complaints are many of the same neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID-19. These neighborhoods, which are majority Black and Hispanic, are already financially vulnerable and, with median household incomes of approximately $30,000, can least afford to be gouged on lifesaving items like face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes.”

Amy Kantawala, a WSR commenter, had this to say:

This is a neighborhood shop, convenient and I feel comfortable sending my kids there. Yes- some items have a mark up but so what? Donna is so nice and so is the staff, and the proximity of the store saves me all the hassle so I am more than happy to pay and support a local business. Mom and pop stores are the heart and soul of NYC and woven in the fabric of our city. Why are we supporting chain stores like Target and Marshalls? Ridiculous and the stupid judge needs to understand what a neighborhood means.

NEWS | 57 comments | permalink
    1. UWS small business supporter says:

      Yet CVS & Duane Reade would get away with price gouging if they were doing it.

      • Paul says:

        I’m not a customer of this store, but I do know that in the West 80s there was at least one local stores that gouged ($200 for 10 masks?), and CVD & Duane Reade didn’t.
        The Face Values outlet at 90th was especially good, selling out sanitizer and masks immediately precisely because they didn’t gouge.

        There’s no reason to take a swipe at anyone you don’t know about, whether they’re chains or not.

      • ben says:

        but they know better not to do it. that’s the key difference.

    2. I am outraged on two fronts. One, that the shop was fined, and two, that instead of mounting a campaign to reverse the judge’s bad ruling and lift the fine, we are donating money to pay the corrupt government that levied the stupid fine in the first place.
      I would suggest everyone write a letter to Linda Rosenthal to get this nonsensical judgement reversed.

      • babrarus says:

        Agree with you, but – Linda Rosenthal is a part of the problem.
        She is corrupt, is part of the system and will not fight to correct this issue.

      • JS says:

        Correspondence should go to City Council person Helen Rosenthal.
        (Not State Rep Linda Rosenthal)

        • Bob Lamm says:

          Absolutely right that the correct person here is City Council Member Helen Rosenthal. I’d also like to note my great respect for both Council Member Helen Rosenthal and State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal.

      • Truth and Reason says:

        And I’m outraged that with as many hungry and homeless people as there are, that instead of helping them, people are jumping on the bandwagon to pay fines for somebody who selfishly broke the law, making it harder for the impoverished to survive! I guess we can all be outraged about different things.

        • Jim Cash says:

          What do homeless have to do with this? Everything is everything else? Do we really spend 55k per homeless person? I read that somewhere but I am terrified to look it up.

      • EdNY says:

        Missing from the details is what the law allows an item to be priced at based on an increased cost to the merchant. If the merchant pays $5.00 and sells it for $8.00, that’s a 37.5% markup (to retail). If the cost goes to $10.00, does the law allow the merchant to maintain their markup, and thus sell the item for $16.00, or at the other extreme, only allow the merchant to add the increased cost to the increased retail, in which case the price would be $13.00? This is a technical matter, and I don’t know on what basis all the complaining and possible legal action can result in overturning a judicial decision if it’s factually based. Exactly how does the law deal with the increased cost to the merchant? It doesn’t say in the correspondence.

        • Sarah says:

          It sounds like the latter, which makes sense. The markup is to cover other expenses (and a profit). An increase in the cost of the good generally won’t increase the cost of the other expenses. I.e., her rent didn’t go up, her wages didn’t go up. Allowing the full markup on the increased cost would mean increasing profits, too.

          It sounds like she didn’t stay on top of regulations, which it is her job to do. I question whether it makes sense to impose the *full* fine here. Part of the problem is that enforcement is underfunded, hence patchy, so DWCP feels a need to fully enforce when they make a case.

          There was some truly ridiculous gouging during the early to mid-pandemic–the NYAG had to devote real resources to chasing people down. It’s not some fussy anti-capitalist crusade.

          • EdNY says:

            Unfortunately, you can’t run a retail business on that basis. If you depress your markup, you have to substantially increase your volume, and selling the additional depressed-markup items does use portions of your overhead. That’s not to say that you couldn’t bring in 500 containers of Clorox wipes and move them out quickly at a depressed price without substantially impacting your overhead, but that’s a one-off situation. And your salesperson(s) would still be devoting time to those sales. It’s really an issue of how much of your time and labor goes to these items. In any case, a reasonable merchant would take a smaller markup on a vital item whose cost jumped dramatically in the spirit of doing the right thing. But I wonder if she even was aware of the regulation.

            • Sarah says:

              If your other costs are essentially fixed, then depressing your markup shouldn’t require more volume. This is the unusual situation that will exist when you’re price-gouging items during a short-term crisis. If you were making it work with, e.g., a $4.50 margin on a $9 product, you should be able to make it work in the short term with a $6.50 margin on the same product at $11. Most of your costs are flat dollar figures. Factoring and costs of short-term credit may affect that on the margins a bit (so if I were writing the reg myself, I’d allow an additional small margin, I think), but these regs aren’t actually meant to apply in ordinary situations for great lengths of time.

            • Josh says:

              I dont understand how you couldn’t run a business that way. It is not like she was expected to sell them at a loss. If she would have sold 100 pieces and made $1 per piece after expenses selling at $5 pre-pandemic, why couldn’t she survive making the same $1 after expenses by just increasing the price by the increase in product cost? Pre-pandemic, it probably would have taken a couple months to move 100 pieces of hand sanitizer. With the pandemic, those same pieces would be gone in a day.

            • EdNY says:

              Looking at it from a cash basis, rather than a retail markup basis, you have to generate the same margin dollars vs. your overhead. So you have to sell more of the product at a smaller markup to stay even. But selling more product generally requires higher overhead – a transaction takes the same amount of labor whether it’s for $5.00 or $1.00 in margin. And smaller margin items take up space that could be used for larger item margins. So ultimately you will reduce your profits. This is a general rule and doesn’t mean you can’t run short-margin promotions, but it’s naive to think that selling more items at lower margin doesn’t impact your fixed costs.

            • EdNY says:

              That’s not to say that the hand sanitizer or Clorox wipes example doesn’t hold – if you can move a lot of a product instantly, then you can afford to take a smaller markup, especially if the margin DOLLARS are the same as before. But as a general practice, your markup is integral to your overhead expenses and profit.

            • Alfonse says:

              The point of the rule is specifically, you do not get to make additional margin on the unusual increase. You get to make your same margin and pass along the additional increase to the customer. So if historically you bought for $5 and sold for $8, if price goes up to $10, you sell for $13 and not $16. You make the same $3 per item you always made.

              People who are arguing “how you operate a store” are confusing general margin management with the specific situation of price gouging specific items that are deemed “necessary.” If the Fiji water plant blew up and your local store wanted to charge you $15 per 16 oz instead of $5 on whatever they happened to have in stock, that is not price gouging. Regardless of what you think, your Fiji water is not a “need.” However, if a water main broke and people needed to obtain clean/bottled water for a week or two, the price gouging rules would apply.

              Rules like this are created to protect consumers, not sellers. It is not possible to craft and enforce a rule that addresses each individual intent. The shopkeeper is likely welcome to contest the ruling in court based on their situation, but for every person like this, I am sure that there were 10 others who deserve their fines.

            • EdNY says:

              I have no problem with the rule if it specifies that you cannot increase your margin dollars. My point is that ultimately it will make your business less profitable. And given the choice, many business owners would refuse to carry such merchandise at increased cost because it would depress their profits. Not everyone is eternally altruistic, sad as it might be.

    3. Hambone says:

      I bought wine at the time at a restaurant. That is well over 100% mark up. Who can I sue?

      • EdNY says:

        This is not about markup; it’s about pricing of a vital item vs. what it sold for prior to the pandemic, other than a proportional increase based on the cost to the merchant.

      • Alfonse says:

        @Hambone, you should sue your parents for not raising a smarter child. You do not need that bottle of wine, therefore they can charge whatever you are willing to pay.

    4. Sally says:

      Just made a donation. I’m a big supporter of the remaining mom and pops left on the UWS. Please consider joining me.

    5. js says:

      Have just donated.

      Now would like to see some donations from the big restaurant groups/companies on the West Side that are now nicely benefiting from expanding seating on sidewalks and free street shed seating…..

      Small stores continue to be screwed by rapacious landlords, City policy and corporate chains/e-commerce

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      Thanks to Dan Hammer for creating this campaign on behalf of Donna Schofield. I commented before that if such a campaign were created I would make a donation. Now I have and I hope lots of other community members will.

    7. Hmmm says:

      ““Our analysis of the complaints found that the neighborhoods with the most complaints are many of the same neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID-19. These neighborhoods, which are majority Black and Hispanic, are already financially vulnerable and, with median household incomes of approximately $30,000, can least afford to be gouged on lifesaving items like face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes.”

      So there were some bad apples.(I read the link) But if the bulk of charges against others are similar to the charges against Donna Schofield, the net result would be to close down yet more family-owned stores in neighborhoods that are already suffering from the financial fallout of the last year-and-a-half and leave them with Duane Reade et al.

      Is that a possibility? Yes.

    8. Leon says:

      Are the names of the people who complained on the complaint? Because they really have a lot of chutzpah.

      • Juan says:

        One would think it would be available through a FOIA request? It would be great if WSR or someone else followed up on this to find out who the Grinch of the UWS is.

    9. ST says:

      A year ago I specifically went to this business to buy a gift for a one-year old’s birthday. I wanted to support neighborhood retail. The city Council and city politicians do nothing but blab about how to support retail when all the retail is closing, and then they do this?

    10. Josh P. says:

      Housing is more essential than hand sanitizer and nobody is limiting the profit people can make when they resell their homes (maybe we should though!)

      • Sarah says:

        We have rent stabilization (and should probably have more!).

      • Peter says:

        Of course, that’s proven to be a sensible allocation of economic resources – just sell to the lowest bidder.

        Where do you guys even come up with this stuff? Are you reading Marx while stoned?

        • Josh P. says:

          Limiting profits on housing would arguable be less Marxist than our current system where the density of every plot of land is centrally planned by the city’s zoning law….

          • Peter says:

            Price controls as a form of de-regulation?! This is getting fun.

            Good luck dealing with the millions of fictitious transactions and the huge gray economy this will create.

      • Julia says:

        In fact there are various regulations and fees to be paid when you sell a home in NYC, including the ‘mansion tax” on anything sold for over $1mill and limits on what is exempt from the federal capital gains tax. I’m not saying these shouldn’t exist, just that they do.

      • They do says:

        Limit it in HDFC buildings

    11. Joanne the Libertarian says:

      Can we see the forest through the trees? Even if she is guilty of price gouging (which I don’t think she is) did she raise prices to buy herself furs and diamonds, or did she raise prices to continue to pay her astronomical rent and even higher astronomical city and state taxes? This story needs more visibility so that everyone can see how this city continues to punish taxpayers. I did see Eric Adams on Bill Maher and he has no problem admitting the disproportionate amount of taxes being paid by top earners in the city.

      • Jean Luke says:

        Right the taxes, fees, permits, rents etc. to operate in NYC are outrageous so I am sure the store barely eeks out a profit after paying their huge expenses. No one is getting rich owning a small store in NYC. Their prices are high but operating in NY is super expensive.

      • Josh says:

        Since none of those changed (taxes/ rent) during the pandemic, and she was managing to pay them before the pandemic, it shows that your comment is less factual and more just a complaint about prices and taxes.

        • Alice Bergman says:

          She paid rent from March to June of 2020 when she was closed down by the city with no money or very little coming in.

        • EdNY says:

          On the other hand, most businesses saw a major drop in sales during the pandemic, without their fixed costs (rent, electricity, water, taxes, etc.) being lowered. Just look at the empty storefronts.

    12. JonDavid says:

      My UWS elderly father shops there all the time for his toddler grandson and recently purchased a Transformer toy that cost him $50. I looked it up on Amazon and with shipping the item would have cost $25. That’s quite a mark up!! Alas, he still intends to give Donna business on account of not being able to walk very far.

      • lynn says:

        I’ve been buying Transformers since the first generation was introduced in the 1980’s. Very often, merchandise that appears to be the ‘same’ on Amazon or eBay may be produced in different countries and vary greatly in quality and authenticity. Depending on the size, and assuming it wasn’t a 6″ version, $50 is not an astronomical amount for a Transformer. The same thing goes for Brio and Lego. If you want the real item it’s always going to be pricey. Why not just be happy that your father bought a nice gift for your son (and Donna was able to provide it)?

    13. SCL says:

      I have been to that store many times. They absolutely do very very very high mark up. But, I must say that I do like going there with my kids because it’s one of the only toy stores that actually exists.

    14. Liz says:

      I enjoy shopping there and have patronized it for years–top quality goods and very helpful staff. Donna employs several youngish men so she is providing a livelihood to more than herself.

    15. Eleanor Selling says:

      Once again, DeBlasio makes it nearly impossible for small businesses to survive, never mind thrive, in this city. Look at the people who work in her store. The heart and soul of good old-fashioned American values. Employment for those who, like the owner, wear their hearts on their shoulders and do the best they can for each customer. What an atrocity.

    16. Julie Chase says:

      Donna never hesitates to ask the neighbors for help; and we have always given it be it. She charged us 10$ per mask at a time when were desperate and afraid. Maybe that would have been the time to return al of the favors and sell those masks as cost? I will never shop there again and I will never again respond to her “poor me, Poor me” pleas it has to work both ways

    17. Jean C. Joachim says:

      That fine is completely ridiculous! A mark-up of three bucks and change? Get real. So sorry this wonderful store has to deal with this baloney.

    18. DF says:

      Wonderful store. Wonderful workers. Most of all, wonderful owner…Donna. Neighborhood would not be the same without this very special store. It’s just like the toy stores of my youth in the 50’s! We can’t let this store be a sacrificial lamb!

    19. Sally Ann says:

      Stationery and Toy World has been the only privately owned, dedicated toy store in the neighborhood for many years. The owners Donna, and earlier her Dad Larry, always knew my kid’s names and were super kind. When my son was little, his blue balloon blew away and he was inconsolable. Larry gave him a new one right away and got him to stop crying. This doesn’t happen in nameless malls, where all you hear at the register is “Following!” The prices have never been low, but the service, selection and personal attention make it worth the trip. And what a treat it’s always been for our kids. If I had a nickel for every balloon we’ve bought there, every birthday gift…..so many fond memories. Small businesses need our support now more than ever!

    20. arnie says:

      The absurdity of ths issue is stpifying. Donna is a very nice woman and she has endured plenty in the past, as she wrangled with unrelenting, price gouging landlords. All she has to do is produce the invoices. If she cannot do that, then she has big problems.

    21. UWSSurfer says:

      Stationery & Toy World is one of my favorite neighborhood stores. It has everything!
      And Donna, the sales guys, and her dad
      are the greatest people.

      This is so painful to hear about the fine. I’m going to donate the GoFundMe.

      For the poster who balked at paying $10 per mask, plenty of UWS shops charged the same at different points during the pandemic.

      Make your own mask! There are lots of instructions on youtube, including how to make a mask from a t-shirt that doesn’t require any sewing.

      Cut up freebie logo tote bags to use as filters. They are made out of polypropylene,
      which is the same non-woven material used in N95 masks.

    22. Karen H. says:

      I made a donation to Go Fund Me, and will write to City Councilperson Helen Rosenthal as recommended below.

      I hope that the two meanspirited people who complained are very proud of their actions to put a beloved neighborhood store out of business. Will they be happier if the store closes?

      I also send supportive best wishes to Donna for enduring this travail, in addition to everyday challenges of running a small business.