‘We’re trying to help everybody’: Retailers all over Butler County changing to make hand sanitizer

Fear of contracting or spreading coronavirus means surging sales for hand sanitizer and other disinfectants, presenting a challenge for local stores to keep up with demand.

Venita Allen, the owner of Hamilton’s LahVdah, said she stocked up on the ingredients needed to make hand sanitizer and other disinfectant products in late February when she saw the pandemic wreaking havoc on other countries.

About six weeks ago, she shifted the focus of her business from skin care and personal hygiene products to creating hand sanitizer, soap sheets and other anti-bacterial products.

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LahVdah provided them for free to front line medical, grocery, sanitation and delivery workers, plus the city's police and fire departments, area homeless and those in desperate need because of illness, even shipping to the latter in the event they faced autoimmune issues.

“It’s something I wanted to do for my town, my city, I wanted to keep it here and keep the numbers down and if you look at the (local) numbers, they’re really good,” Allen said.

The shop also made products available to the general public, but at cost and not marked up for a profit.

“(The price for each item) seems like a lot, but at these times, the bottles and the costs of everything that goes up, it kind of trickles down to us,” she said. “We’re not making money. We’re putting our lives out there. We’re trying to help everybody.”

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Together, she and her staff have made and distributed nearly 60,000 hand sanitizer bottles ranging in size from two ounces to a gallon.

Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said Allen is “a local hero.”

“Her assistance with her products to local public safety, the Hamilton Parks Conservancy and to the city’s Quick Strike Team provided extra comfort to those working on the front lines,” Smith said.

Kroger didn’t address how long its shelves remained nearly empty or completely bare of such products following an initial surge in demand, but it said it is taking measures to ensure shortages do not occur again.

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“While the supply pipeline is strong, we have implemented product purchase limits on highly popular products to help ensure all our customers have access to them,” said Kroger spokesperson Erin Rolfes. “Our manufacturing plants and suppliers are working tirelessly to help replenish our inventories.”

White Dog Distilling Company in Middletown followed the formula specifications from the World Health Organization and started bottling hand sanitizer that contains ethyl alcohol, pure glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water.

The response was overwhelming, with customers waiting in line and sometimes coming back the next day when supplies ran out. Since March 26, the business has sold 2,500 gallons of the product.

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Half-gallon plastic jugs of hand sanitizer sold for $17.50. This week, the shop sold 32-ounce spray bottles for $15 each, limiting them to two per customer. It also sold half-gallon sizes for $20, a gallon for $40 and a 55-gallon drum for $1,850.

“We had to raise our prices a little due to our suppliers raising theirs,” said co-owner Mike Dranschak.

The business sold to the general public at first, but soon found itself having a difficult time obtaining alcohol and bottles, he said. It shifted to only selling to essential businesses that needed it, such as nursing homes, health care providers and police and fire departments.

It took about two weeks to get back on track and make the sanitizer available to the public again, Dranschak said.

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Some online retailers have set high prices for hand sanitizer and other disinfectants in an attempt to profit on the demand for them.

Amazon yanked thousands of listings for wipes, sanitizer and face masks, suspending some accounts responsible for the listings and warning others that if they kept inflating prices, they would lose their accounts.

An Amazon spokesperson told the Journal-News on Thursday that there is no place for price gouging on its site, which is why its teams are monitoring its online store on a 24/7 basis and have already removed hundreds of thousands of offers for attempted price gouging.

“We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to take advantage of this global health crisis and, in addition to removing these offers, we have terminated more than 6,000 accounts and working directly with states attorneys general to prosecute bad actors and hold them accountable,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”

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eBay attempted to regulate listings for hand sanitizer and masks in check in late February, but by early March had removed those listings from its marketplace due to concerns that inflated prices for these products may violate applicable laws or regulations. As of last week, it had removed or blocked more than 15 million listings that are in violation of its policy related to COVID-19.

“Like so many companies, we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus pandemic as it continues to develop,” eBay spokesperson Ashley Settle told this news outlet. “As always, our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers around the world. We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and eBay policies.”

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