Coronavirus Pop-Up Opens in DC to Sell Masks, Hand Sanitizer

Some people in the DC neighborhood question whether the store's owner is capitalizing on people's fears

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A new pop-up shop on Florida Avenue in Northeast D.C. is raising criticism after one woman decided to sell supplies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The shop owner, Adilisha Patrom, started selling face masks, disinfecting wipes, bleach and hand sanitizer to people looking to stay healthy as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Inside, her storefront, different models of face masks and hand sanitizer bottles in various sizes are displayed along a stack of information sheets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, one man stopped by, asked how much the masks cost and then left.

A Florida native who came to Washington to attend Howard University, Patrom, 29, sells her masks for between $5 and $20, depending on the model. She also puts together prevention kits with masks, surgical gloves and sanitizer, which sell for $20 to $30.

The high-end N95 masks are priced at about twice what they sell for on Amazon. But Patrom says her goal isn't to get rich. Rather, she sees the shop as a service to the community and says discounts are available to those in need and to senior citizens, who are most vulnerable to the virus.

Some people in the Trinidad neighborhood question whether she’s capitalizing on people’s fears. 

Patrom pushes back and says she is offering products that are becoming more difficult to find. 

"I think having like a hub here in D.C. where people can come get information as well as product is really good for this community," Patrom said. 

The idea started with a health crisis in her own family; Patrom's father was diagnosed with a blood cancer in November. With her father's immune system weakened by ongoing chemotherapy treatments, Patrom bought boxes of N95 face masks, which are considered superior to the basic surgical masks.

Both she and her father wear the masks routinely when going to grocery store or elsewhere around town.

As the global coronavirus death toll increased and the virus began making inroads in the U.S., Patrom decided to stock up on hand sanitizers and open her shop. Patrom buys her products from retail stores and marks them up to make a profit.

So far, business has been slow. Patrom said she has only made three sales since opening early this week. The majority of her visitors, she says, are just seeking basic information and walking away with a CDC fact sheet.

"I think people haven't started freaking out yet," she said. "A lot of people are just waiting for that first (local case)."

Asked what she thought would happen the day after the first coronavirus case is identified in the nation's capital, Patrom shuddered and said, "There will be a line down the block."

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