Patrons line up outside the doors as early as 4:00 am to get a jump on the deals to be had at local Jacksboro retailer Around The Bin. iPads, iPhones, jewelry, power tools, just about anything one can imagine can be found in these bins, and all at a very attractive price of six dollars or less.
Therein lies the controversy surrounding this new and innovative business. Around The Bin attracts people from all over the region. Hundreds, if not thousands, gather there daily to take advantage of the low prices, and the intrigue of a treasure hunt. In ordinary circumstances this is something to be applauded. Everyone wins when a business like this emerges in the community. Customers get great deals on goods, local government collects sales and business taxes for the betterment of the community, jobs are created as the business expands. However, amidst the climate of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is growing concern amongst the community about the potential health risks involved in keeping Around The Bin open.
For those who have never been to the shop, it works like this: Each day of the week is assigned a dollar amount. On Fridays, all items are six dollars. Saturdays all items are five dollars. Each day that passes the price decreases all the way down to twenty five cents per item. Shoppers line up around the building at the crack of dawn waiting for the store to open its doors, and once they’re opened, chaos ensues. Hundreds rush in to raid the steel bins spaced evenly throughout the warehouse where they vigorously dig through merchandise to fill their store provided shopping bags. At such low prices, bags can be filled to the brim without breaking the bank. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Many in the community have now posed the question: At what cost do these great deals come with the looming threat of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading like wildfire throughout the United States? Campbell County currently may only have four confirmed cases of the Novel Coronavirus, but surrounding county shoppers such as Anderson (9 cases), Claiborne (2 cases), Scott (2 cases), and Knox (52 cases), according to tn.gov/health, may be a valid a concern for citizens.
It’s not just the crowds that pose a threat to the community. While that is an abounding concern, there are other aspects of Around The Bin’s business model that pose a potential means for unintentional transmission of the virus. Simply picking an item up to inspect it, one can rest assured that hundreds of other shoppers have touched that same item throughout the course of a normal shopping day. Even still, a significant amount of the store’s inventory are items that have been shipped to the United States from foreign countries in which COVID-19 is a big problem; China, Italy, Japan amongst others. With these factors considered, its obvious why so many in Campbell County are questioning whether or not the business should be permitted to operate.
Many believe it should be as simple as having local government officials order the business to cease operations. But it’s not quite that cut and dry.
Campbell County Mayor E L Morton gave The Volunteer Times his position on the issue.
“I have spent half of last week and most of today (3/30/2020) working on this issue. Friday afternoon a Campbell County Health Department Nurse and Administrator delivered COVID-19 fliers and Executive Order 17 to the owner and he took no action. I have requested the authority from the Governor to issue a Safer at Home order which could allow designation of essential businesses and modification or closure of others. Jacksboro Mayor June Forstner checked City business codes and found no more authority than I have to affect a health closure at the city level. I am frustrated beyond measure that 1. A retailer has no conscience and 2. People continue to patronize an unscrupulous business at the risk of all the rest of our families and neighbors. Today I requested through the Campbell County Health Department for the regional Public Health Officer to evaluate this business for consideration for a public health closure. I am also consulting with the courts to determine what more can be done. This is not right. Come next legislative cycle in Nashville, it must change.”
In a letter to Tennessee municipal attorneys dated March 17, 2020, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service provided reference to state legislation that suggested it would require individual cities themselves to declare a state of emergency before implementing business closures. These actions would not come without some resistance and possibly legal recourse for the businesses.
As the letter states “While it is unprecedented, much like the situation we are currently facing at least in the modern world, a city mayor may consider declaring an emergency under Tennessee Code Annotated § 58-8-104(a) and then ordering an evacuation under Tennessee Code Annotated § 58-8-104(f) of certain zones or areas of the city except for essential personnel. Under Tennessee Code Annotated § 58-2-110(3)(A)(v), the duration of each emergency declared is limited to seven days, but the city may
extend it as necessary in seven-day increments. We recommend that city attorneys review this option thoroughly and discuss it with city leaders prior to taking any
action. Undoubtedly and understandably, this action will not come without resistance.
Before any actions are taken that would close businesses, we recommend that city officials discuss these issues extensively with their city attorneys and contact the city’s insurance carriers.”
An alternative course of action would be for the local health department to order closure of a business that poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of a community. The Volunteer Times reached out to the Campbell County Health Department and was directed to Corie Couge MS, CHES / Assessment and Planning Coordinator. Ms. Gouge replied
“TDH does not regulate those type of businesses. Today the Governor announced a stay at home order and closing of non-essential businesses. You can find the Governor’s Executive Order here:
There are many things the public can do to help flatten the curve and reduce the impact of COVID-19:
Wash your hands often with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand rub) for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing
Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
Stay home when you are sick
Cover your coughs and sneezes with your arm or a tissue
Clean and disinfect objects (e.g., cell phone, computer) and high touch surfaces regularly
Practice social/physical distancing from others, be safer at home”
The public should also be made aware that Around The Bin and its staff are not taking the COVID-19 outbreak lightly. I spoke with Larry Waters, Around The Bin Owner and Manager for the shareholders who stated. “What we’ve done is install a new sink on the sales floor and we are installing a new one this week. The first thing people see when they come in is signs saying wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, and we’ve put up the signs that the Health Department gave us with the guidelines for COVID-19 prevention. We’ve seen our customers following the six feet guideline except for families, and I figure if they live together they can shop together. Anyhow, we’re not out to hurt anybody or do anything wrong. We feel like we are as essential as any other store in Jacksboro. We try to make our prices affordable where these people who are out of work can get the essentials they need at a time like this. They can buy groceries, clothing, cooking oil, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, and hand creams. Our crowds have been down, we’ve not allowed over 50 people in the building at a time. I know the government says no more than 10 people in a social gathering, and we’ve looked up the definition of social gathering and it says its a fellowship. We love God but this is not a church. We are here to try to serve the people and keep people fed. Also the people that work for us, we feel like that this keeps them going where they can feed themselves and their families. I know we’ve got promises from the government but until they’ve got checks in their hand and food on their table, I feel like I’m responsible for them also. ”
Upon inspection of the facility, they provide hand sanitizer on location for their customers to use upon entry and exit of the store. There was indeed a new sink installed on the sales floor and staff members with power tools whirring all over the store making further accommodations. There were free latex gloves at the store’s entry. Mr. Waters informed the Times that he has purchased 30 cases of the black nitrile gloves for customer use. Bottles of hand sanitizer are stationed at every register and other locations throughout the store. Numerous warning signs and precautionary signs, including signs provided by the Health Department are posted to remind patrons to wash their hands. Duct tape markers lined the floors with the words “6ft Distance Reminder” written on them in black permanent marker. The front door was propped open so that customers did not have to touch door handles. Staff members told the Times that they have been instructed to wipe the registers, shelves, and bins with Clorox wipes regularly, and Mr. Waters informed us that the sales floor is mopped nightly with Clorox bleach solution. The business’s Facebook page also recommends that shoppers take their own precautions by adhering to the CDC recommended practice of maintaining a minimum of six feet of distance from others.
I caught up with one shopper, Stephanie Jones of Pinecrest in Jacksboro, who told me “This is a place where I can come and get essential items at an affordable price when times are difficult. I’ve gotten peanut butter, sugar, nuts, snacks, aloe, and other supplies to make my own hand sanitizer and the best part is, the shelves aren’t empty.”
It would appear that at this time, Around The Bin will remain open for business.
So for those that feel the risk outweighs the reward, it is advisable to avoid visiting Around The Bin until the COVID-19 threat subsides. Those who choose to continue shopping there should take extra care to adhere to CDC recommended practices, sanitize hands before and after entering the store, avoid touching your face while shopping, wash your hands thoroughly as soon as possible after shopping, and sanitize any merchandise to the best extent possible.
It is worth mentioning that citizens should be practicing the recommendations of federal and state health officials at all points of commerce and public gathering, not just Around The Bin. The best way to neutralize a threat like COVID-19 is for all citizens to practice social distancing. Practicing good hygiene, and avoiding unnecessary contact with others will see us all through this and minimize the spread of the disease