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Nathan Baker

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Downtown violence causes concern for some local business owners

March 24th, 2014 9:27 pm by Nathan Baker

Downtown violence causes concern for some local business owners

June Wagner, owner of Unique Treasures - located near where Sunday morning's shooting took place - said she was worried that a fear of violence could hamper downtown businesses' success. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)

A fatal shooting in a downtown Johnson City parking lot is the latest in a series of violent crimes that downtown business owners are hoping isn’t the start of a trend.

Early Sunday morning, two men were shot, one of them fatally, in the Cherry Street parking lot near the Battery, a downtown nightclub and restaurant.

Police charged 24-year-old Jamarcus Jackson with the shooting, saying he fired multiple shots in the parking lot, killing one and injuring another.

June Wagner, owner of Unique Treasures at the corner of State of Franklin Road and Spring Street, said commotion and scuffles in the early morning hours in the downtown area isn’t out of the ordinary, but the two shootings and a violent beating in the last couple of months have left their family worried.

Wagner’s daughter’s room overlooks the parking lot where the shootings occurred, and they heard the gunshots Sunday.

“I’d like to thank the police department, they responded relatively quickly — by the time I got to that side of the house they were already there,” she said. “But I’ve got to be worried about our safety with bullets flying around everywhere.”

Wagner said she’s hesitant to lay blame on the police or the downtown bars. Those responsible for violent crime are really the criminals committing them, she said.

But without a solution, she said, the fear of violence could hamper the efforts of downtown businesses.

Dan Numan, owner of Numan’s Cafe and Sports Bar, likewise said a reputation for violent crime could hurt the revenues of downtown establishments.

For those pointing fingers at the city’s nightlife, he said “getting drunk doesn’t cause fights, it’s people’s personal problems that does that.”

There’s a police presence downtown, but it’s difficult to know where a problem will arise, Numan said.

Jackson, the man arrested by police in connecting with the shooting, was a customer of Numan’s, and seemed like an agreeable guy, but that’s what makes it difficult for businesses and their employees, Numan said.

“We do our best to keep things like that from happening,” he said, pointing to the dress code policy on the businesses door that forbids bandanas and gang-related clothing. “We’ve got cameras all over, and I have very good, well-trained security people who know how to diffuse bad situations.”

The recent incidents are an anomaly, not a growing trend, Numan said. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the Washington County Economic Development Council, seemed to agree.

“I think it’s going to alarm folks, but I can tell you, in three-plus years there has been a major improvement downtown,” Miller said. “You can’t use a few incidents to categorize it as an unsafe place to be.”

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois told the Press on Sunday the city has used some of an $800,000 state crime-reduction grant to conduct targeted patrols near the Cherry Street parking lot and other areas downtown.

“We do recognize that, over a number of years, that particular area of town has been a challenge, from a crime standpoint,” Sirois said. “One of the aspects of that grant is putting officers on an overtime basis ... during those times when we have a number of issues come up. If you go downtown, and you go to that area, you’ll notice we do have more officers out ... to try to address those issues.”

But Kathy Shephard, who owns Jonesborough’s East TN Ghost Tours and Paranormal Technology with partner Robb Phillips, believes the rash of crimes has made the downtown area unsafe for businesses.

In Jonesborough, the business ushers customers on late-night tours, telling historically based tales.

With the building in which they’re currently located up for sale, Shephard said the duo was considering relocating to downtown Johnson City, but they’ve decided against the relocation.

“When we have people with us on tours, we have to make sure they’re safe and comfortable,” she said. “People just wouldn’t feel safe enough to go out with us with all that’s going on.”

Still, Miller said crime statistics show Johnson City is actually safer than the other Tri-Cities.

“The overall crime index is very low, and violent crimes are lower than Kingsport, Bristol and Greeneville,” he said. “You can say anything can impede your efforts, traffic, pedestrian safety, after-hours crime, but the positive thing about this story was that the police were able to get the suspect before anything else happened.”

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