COLORADO SPRINGS — Some customers in Colorado Springs have raised concerns over whether local Ace Hardware stores are price gouging masks.
N95 labeled masks are being sold at the Ace Hardware store on Circle Drive and other surrounding locations for $7.50/each.
"I thought $7.50 was ridiculous for one mask," one customer told News 5 in a phone interview. "At the same time, are they putting consumers health in jeopardy by handling these masks and putting them into individual bags?"
It's a process News 5 Investigates did confirm was happening. Employees were putting individual masks in plastic bags. They were not factory sealed in a box, shrink wrap or plastic container.
A sign posted at the register said the masks were being sold with no markup.
"You pay $7.50, we pay $7.50," the sign said.
We fact-checked this statement and found it to be true. The corporate office for ACE Hardware sent us an invoice showing the store owner paid $7.50 for each N95 labeled mask. The shipment came from a distributor in New Jersey.
Our research also found another Ace Hardware store at Austin Bluffs and Academy selling non-N95 masks for $4.99.
Once again, we were told the masks were being sold at cost. However, News 5 Investigates found this statement to be false.
We tracked down the Colorado company distributing these masks to ACE stores and learned they sold them for $3.50 each.
This means the $4.99 price tag the Austin Bluffs ACE location had passed along to consumers was inflated by nearly 30-percent.
We should point out that ACE Hardware isn't doing anything wrong. They can set prices as high as they want. Colorado does not have any laws against price-gouging "essential" items during a pandemic or disaster.
"That's unfortunate that Colorado doesn't have a law," a customer said. "Maybe this is one of those scenarios that changes the laws."
A spokesperson for ACE Hardware says the stores selling these masks are all independently owned.
Also, the masks are not part of their national inventory list---meaning the N95 and non-N95 masks are not sold at all ACE Hardware locations.
What's a reasonable price to pay for these masks?
Supply and demand can impact prices. Prior to the pandemic, a 10-pack of N95 masks cost as low as $10.
Non N95 grade masks cost much less. We found a 50-pack on Amazon for $20.
To-date, many stores remain "sold out" of masks following state and federal recommendations asking everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks when they leave their homes.
Do you have a story for News 5 Investigates? We're listening. Email us at News5Investigates@KOAA.com. We'd also like to hear from you if you believe you've spotted unfair prices on essential items. We'll be happy to check it out.