ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When a shopper spotted individual dust masks going for $9.99 at an Allendale Township hardware store, she shared her frustration with Target 8.

“Price gouging has already begun … It looks like they took these facemasks out of their original packaging, packaged them in individual Ziploc bags and priced them at $9.99 apiece. What a rip-off!,” the tipster wrote.

Target 8 visited the store in question — True Value on M-45 — and found the $10 masks just as the tipster described them.

Individually packaged dust masks at a hardware store in Allendale Township. (Feb. 27, 2020)

They usually sell as a box of 20 for $28.99.

“For comparison, I found this mask at Home Depot for $3,” wrote the tipster. “But it was (Home Depot’s) last one. As they are completely sold out.”  

The owner the True Value store told Target 8 they’re not trying to make money off concerns over the coronavirus.

Instead, Chad Ayers said they’re just trying to keep masks on the shelves for their customers.

It’s been a struggle in the last couple of days.

Shelves where dust masks are placed at a hardware store in Allendale Township. (Feb. 27, 2020)

“We had to put (the single masks) out there because every time we’d get inventory, they were gone. They were getting wiped out and somebody was turning them around and selling them online (for a higher price,)” Ayers said in an interview at the store.

Ayers said their goal in breaking up the boxes was to stop the scalpers and ensure their regular customers can still depend on them for masks.

“Our farmers, I bet they buy three to five boxes a week from us. We need to make sure we have that inventory for those guys because they need it for real purposes like taking care of turkeys and taking care of pigs,” he said.

Ayers said they keep boxes in the back and still sell them to their core customers at the normal price of $28.99.

He also said cashiers had been directed to lower the price on individual masks at the register from $9.99 to $2.49.

“We notified our team and said, ‘Hey, when they come to the front and they ask questions around the pricing, then we can sell them (for $2.49) because then we’ll know they truly need a dust mask.’”

However, when Target 8 bought a mask prior to the interview with Ayers, we paid $9.99.

Later, we asked the cashier if she knew she was supposed to sell the masks for less than $9.99, and she said, “no.”

Ayers said they sent the directive to employees in the last 24 hours via email, which the cashier acknowledged she had not yet checked.

Ayers said the increased demand developed quickly over the last 48 hours and it’s been a challenge to quickly determine how to handle it.

Late Thursday afternoon, several hours after the interview, Ayers informed Target 8 they’d made a change.

While the sticker price is still $9.99, an individual mask will ring up at the register as $6.99.

Ayers said seven bucks is a fair price because of the added expense of Ziploc bags and the gloves they must wear when transferring the masks to them.

He also noted that they originally started breaking up the boxes when a senior citizen came to the store looking for a mask because she had to travel by plane.

She only wanted one mask, so they opened a box for her and then decided to continue doing so.

True Value is not in any way suggesting that the masks will protect you from coronavirus. Neither is the Centers for Disease Control, which is not recommending that healthy people wear face masks.

The CDC also says the N95 mask, which is the type being sold at True Value, will filter out 95% of particles in the air, large and small.  

When Target 8 talked to True Value at 4 p.m. Thursday, they had two boxes of twenty masks left.

They don’t know if they’ll be able to get more inventory when those run out.