The Rapid Mask2Go vending machine on NYC's Lower East Side

Philadelphians may soon have protective face masks available at their fingertips, thanks to two companies looking to bring PPE vending machines to the city.

New York City-based startup Rapid Mask2Go said Philly could be second behind NYC to get its new KN95 mask dispensers.

“We are working with a few locations in Philadelphia,” co-founder David Edelman told Billy Penn.

If those locations are privately owned, Edelman wouldn’t have to jump through many hoops to make it happen. Vending machine operators need a commercial activity license, according to L&I spokesperson Karen Guss, which is available for free via an online application. No zoning permit is required to put a vending machine on private property.

That’s the most likely spot for them, because if Edelman wanted to put a vending machine on a public sidewalk, he would first need to get City Council approval, Streets Department spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco said.

In New York, the machine is perched inside the doorway of a vacant storefront on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. So it’s on private property, but publicly accessible.

Edelman told CityMetric he was inspired to launch the business after he tried and failed to buy some masks. After importing a bulk package, he was left with a surplus, and got the idea to sell the extra in a vending machine.

NYC’s Rapid Mask2Go dispenser popped up at the end of April. It sells KN95’s for $4 a piece, compared to about $4.50 to $5 per mask sold in multiple packs on the company’s website.

Vending machines are never subject to state taxes but usually their contents are.

Thanks to an emergency disaster declaration issued by Gov. Wolf, the masks inside the machine won’t be taxed either, according to a state spokesperson. Under normal circumstances, they would, spokesperson Jeffrey Johnson said.

As the protective gear becomes recommended or mandatory across the globe, PPE vending machines are proliferating. The machines have been operating for years in Beijing, where people also wear face masks to protect from air pollution.

More recently, a  gaming corporation announced plants to set up 20 such machines in Singapore. Britain’s first “Vendamask” machine went up in front of a convenience store this month, and similar machines have been in operation at transportation stations in Germany since April.

Many U.S. airports have started requiring staff and passengers to wear masks. PHL International made face coverings a requirement beginning May 11 — and may soon get its first mask dispenser.

Prepango normally operates airport vending machines stocked with phone accessories, other tech and pharmaceuticals. The company installed two PPE-stocked vending machines in Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport, filled with face masks and other health safety necessities like hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, CityMetric reported. Prices range from $4.25 to $14.50.

Company co-founder Marcos Modiano told Billy Penn that Prepango is still waiting to hear back from PHL International about installing one there.

An airport spokesperson said PHL is encouraging passengers to use existing stores to purchase any health and safety items for now.

“PHL is not in a position to engage new vendors at the moment, but the airport is considering PPE vending options for pre-security locations such as ticketing and baggage claim,” said spokesperson Florence Brown.

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...