After multiple reports of high pricing on water, some 7-Eleven locations in Florida will be offering free water to residents as they prepare for Hurricane Irma.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told ABC Action News in Tampa that her office received 39 complaints about prices on cases of water at Tampa Bay 7-Elevens. The gas station chain tweeted Friday night that it was sending trucks to Orlando, Port Orange and Oldsmar locations to hand out free water starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Late Friday, 7-Eleven’s corporate office said it would be sending 1,600 cases of water to each of the three Florida locations, totaling 4,800 cases, to be distributed Saturday. The chain is also pledging a $150,000 donation to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Irma relief, the same amount 7-Eleven pledged for Hurricane Harvey relief.
Residents across Florida have been scrambling to pick up supplies for days in preparation for a possible Category 5 hit from Irma. With supplies dwindling over the past week, many have been left vulnerable to price gouging.
Price gouging is illegal. Bondi’s office set up a hotline after Florida declared a state of emergency to take complaints of jacked-up prices on essential goods.
As of Friday afternoon, Bondi reported nearly 7,000 calls were made at a rate of about 100 calls an hour.
Bondi said her office has taken the issue very seriously as Floridians scramble to prepare for the monster storm. She told Fox News on Thursday that she received 45 complaints about higher prices at Chevron stations in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and publicly urged the oil company to call her office to explain itself. On Friday, Bondi was on CNBC saying that Chevron’s corporate offices were coordinating with her to offer assistance wherever possible.
Because most 7-Eleven locations were justifying the higher price per case by multiplying the cost per bottle, it did not qualify as illegal gouging.
“Shame on anyone, anyone who is going to do that with bottled water, whether they are going to get away with it or not,” Bondi told the Tampa TV station.
“We do not condone the behavior identified by the Attorney General of Florida,” 7-Eleven said in a statement late Friday, “and are aggressively taking steps to resolve this issue with the identified stores. Franchisees are independent contractors and as such price the product in their stores independently. We are disappointed that the small minority of Franchisees have chosen to do this and will harshly deal with any offenders. The majority of 7-Eleven Franchisees stand ready to serve their communities during this difficult time.”
Illegal or not, many consumers took to social media to try to shame the convenience stores into dropping their case prices.