Who’s Up for a Little Voluntary Price Gouging?

The coronavirus pandemic has left very few of us immune from feelings of economic uncertainty, but it’s far worse for those who have lost their jobs, even temporarily. The retail and service industries in particular have seen jobs and whole businesses evaporate overnight. We all have favorite restaurants or small businesses that we hope will still be around whenever we can “return to normal,” whether that is in weeks or months. People with the means to do so try their best to order takeout from local eateries, or in my case drive by the cigar shop to pick up a box curbside, to chip in where we can. It’s not the same experience for the customer (the people, not the smokes, make the cigar shop), and the revenue is not enough for businesses to survive long term, but it’s something.

But what of the places that are absolutely closed? I live very close to a nail salon, which has been shuttered for weeks. The same is true of hair salons everywhere. Think of those workers, who are generally not wealthy and rely largely on tips and regular customers. Not only did most of their income evaporate the day their business shut down, but relief offered by the CARES Act is hard to access when it’s currently so difficult to apply for unemployment or small business loans. Those measures will eventually help such people, but it is still going to be rough. 

As consumers, many of us are sitting home, unloading the dishwasher for the third time in one day or staring in the mirror at our shaggy hair. We fantasize about what we’ll do when we can finally get out: a sitdown meal out at our favorite place, that first visit to your stylist or nail salon, maybe that first trip to a live performance at a favorite club. Wouldn’t being there to welcome that business back be worth something, particularly if you still have a job and income? And particularly if, by the time you can do it, you haven’t spent any money on that treat in a while?

Here is my modest proposal: Why couldn’t there be a movement to auction, right now, online and from the comfort of home, the right to be among the first back to some businesses when they reopen, with the proceeds going to their workers?

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