Column: What is being revealed about your character right now?

Clark County Today Editor offers some anecdotal observations about how we’re handling the coronavirus pandemic

In the last 24 hours, like me, you may have become aware of a story of a pair of brothers in Tennessee who quickly became infamous for their greed and selfishness in the wake of the occasional hysteria that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

Noah and Mack Colvin, residents of Hixson, Tennessee, devised a plan to profit off the public’s frantic urge to hoard cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. Here’s an account offered by the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper:

https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/2020/03/15/coronavirus-price-gouging-men-hoarding-hand-sanitizer-urged-stop/5053519002/

Basically, according to the Courier-Journal and other reports, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip in early March across Tennessee and Kentucky, purchasing as many bottles of hand sanitizer as he could. His brother Matt stayed at home, waiting for pallets of antibacterial wipes and additional sanitizer to be shipped. After filling up a storage unit with thousands of the items, they began selling them online at a tremendous markup from what they had paid, reportedly up to $70 per item.

However, the brothers didn’t count on others stepping in to foil their plan. Amazon removed their listings in its larger efforts to stop coronavirus-related price gouging, leaving the Colvins with over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. The Courier-Journal reported that Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced his office had ordered the brothers to stop buying and selling while his office investigated their actions to determine if they had violated price gouging laws.

After their efforts to profit on the pandemic were thwarted, the Colvins were shamefully forced to search for ways to donate the items. The Courier-Journal report indicated that officials from the Tennessee attorney general’s office were seen clearing out hand sanitizer from the Colvins’ storage unit on Sunday.

We’ve all viewed the photos on social media, and we’ve even published some here at Clark County Today, of empty shelves and long lines at grocery stores. This weekend, I did a small amount of research myself to see what it was like out there and what I found didn’t necessarily match what I had seen in the news and on social media.

I went to a movie theater on Sunday with three friends. It was a ghost town. The lobby/concession area was virtually empty and when we got inside our theater, there were only two other people there so it was easy for the six of us to leave plenty of space between us. Everyone I encountered during my visit was pleasant and responsible. I later went through the drive-up window at a fast food chain restaurant and there wasn’t a long line and the staff was overly friendly.

Over the weekend, I went to two grocery stores whose names didn’t end with the letters Co and there were no long lines or people treating each other poorly and the shelves were well-stocked.

Now, I know there are some of you who have had recent experiences different than mine and my anecdotal evidence may not match yours. But, the differing reports of human behavior in recent days made me pause and reflect.

Those of you who read my thoughts on a regular basis know many of my cultural references come from movies, so naturally this situation reminded me of a scene from one of my favorites — It’s a Wonderful Life. The scene I’m referring to is “The Bank Run.’’

While the residents of Bedford Falls were making a run on their local bank, George (played by James Stewart) was pleading with his shareholders at the Bailey Building and Loan not to panic. Old Man Potter was offering to buy up shares from the Building and Loan shareholders at 50 cents on the dollar and George didn’t want Potter to get his hands on one of the last businesses in the town not owned by the evil tyrant. 

“We’re panicking and he’s not,’’ George emphatically told the shareholders who crowded the lobby of his small business.

When George’s wife Mary pulled the cash out of her purse that the newly married couple had saved for the purpose of their honeymoon, George offered to provide it to his shareholders to tide them over until the bank reopened.

The first guy pushing his way up to the window was a character referred to only as “Tom,’’ who had $242 on account at the Building and Loan. “Tom’’ demanded the entire $242. George pleaded with him to temporarily make due with less, but “Tom’’ refused, insisting on taking all $242 even though there were still many, many of his fellow townspeople waiting anxiously in line behind him.

The next two in line after Tom, informed an incredibly appreciative George that they could make due with $20 each. Then, George came to a little, meek, older lady he referred to as “Miss Davis.’’ The lady said, “could I have $17.50?’’ George was so grateful, he lunged over the counter and kissed her on the cheek.

I know it’s Hollywood. It’s a fictional movie and this is real life. But, what kind of a member of society are you? Are you like the Colvin brothers? Are you like the character “Tom’’ in It’s a Wonderful Life? Or, are you like George Bailey? Or, Miss Davis? Or any of the many, many others in our community who are doing everything they can to look out for others during this temporary time of need?


About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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