Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon attorney general

Two ubiquitous convenience store chains have agreed to pay thousands of dollars to settle complaints with the Oregon Attorney General’s office that they illegally upped the price of face masks, including in Salem, just as the pandemic was taking hold.

As the pandemic arrived in Oregon in March, Gov. Kate Brown declared an “abnormal disruption to the Oregon marketplace” because of the virus. The declaration allowed the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate complaints of pandemic-related price-gouging and take action against businesses that raise the price of essential consumer goods by more than 15%.

Later that month, the department sent three cease-and-desist letters to Salem area convenience stores charging excessive prices for bottled water, toilet paper and surgical masks.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the department announced it had reached settlement agreements with Plaid Pantry and 7-Eleven over complaints that it had charged excessive prices for surgical masks. Under each agreement, neither company admits to breaking the law and agrees to abide by the state’s consumer protection laws. Plaid Pantry has agreed to pay $21,500 and 7-Eleven will pay $12,500 as part of the respective agreements.

“Most businesses are following the law,” said Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, in a statement. “Those that are not should take note: the Oregon Department of Justice will investigate, and we will hold you accountable. The penalties for violations are significant.”

Neither company responded to a request for comment.

According to the agreement, in March Texas-based 7-Eleven began selling nearly 2,000 disposable face masks at its stores throughout Oregon. Each mask was sold for $3.99 and cost 7-Eleven $1.60, more than the 15% that was allowed.

Plaid Pantry, an Oregon-based company, began selling four packs of masks in its stores in May and June for $8.99, according to the agreement. The masks cost the company $4.50 for a four-pack, above the 15% allowed. Plaid Pantry sold nearly 9,000 of the masks for nearly double the price between May and June. After being contacted by the department, the company reduced its price to $5.99.

The department did not respond to a request for complaints specific to Salem by Tuesday afternoon.

After the governor made her declaration, the attorney general’s office set up a price-gouging hotline that’s received more than 1,000 reports of price-gouging.

The department also announced that it had reached other settlements related to the pandemic.

Bend-based Live Your Colour, Inc. (which does business as “Narasocks”) agreed to pay $15,000 for advertising that its silk socks could protect against Covid.

Sher-Ray, Inc., a Bend organic skincare company, also drew scrutiny from the department after advertising one of its aromatherapy products as a possible cure or mitigation for Covid. Sher-Ray didn’t pay money as part of their settlement. Both companies agreed not to advertise or promote their products without reliable scientific evidence to support their claims.

Additionally, EF Educational Tours, a Massachusetts-based company that organizes educational trips for high school students and teachers, agreed to pay $15,000 after the department received complaints over its refund policies related to cancelations caused by the pandemic. The company also agreed to increase the amount of refunds offered to consumers.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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