Cloud 9 Emporium on West Oakland Avenue, one of three synthetic drug shops in the Tri-Cities area that closed their businesses Wednesday because of threats against their employees, reopened Thursday under the management of two of those employees.
“We discouraged them from opening,” said Todd Cartwright, who has owned White Cloud Emporium in Bloomingdale for the past several years and is business partners with the owner of the Cloud 9 shop on West Oakland and another Cloud 9 shop in Bristol.
Cartwright said that after he and his partner, who does not want to be identified because of the threats, closed their shops, two of their managers who were angry that they “gave in” to protesters opened their own shop, Above the Clouds Boutique, in Boones Creek. He said his partner then withdrew his business license at the West Oakland shop and sold its inventory to the former managers against Cartwright’s personal wishes.
Despite several offers to purchase White Cloud, Cartwright, who described himself as a conscientious owner who never sold bath salts, refused to sell to anyone under age 21 and personally tested all his products for safety, said he will not sell the shop in Bloomingdale because of his inability to prevent new owners from selling bath salts or other powders.
While his partner is still undecided on what will be done with the Cloud 9 shop in Bristol, Cartwright, who owns shops here and in other states, said both he and his partner are contemplating shutting down all their storefronts in Tennessee and doing business exclusively online. “With everything that’s been going on the past couple of weeks,” the potential for violence is too great, he said.
Cartwright said he has contacted federal authorities for protection for himself and his family and he fears local law enforcement is not prepared for the violence that he believes will occur at some point between the shops’ protesters and their customers. “Someone is going to get hurt. Customers are getting (angry) and they will counteract. It’s going to get bad,” he said.
In Washington County, Parents Against the Sale of Synthetic Drugs, a group led by Tammy Eldridge, wife of Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, will conduct a day-long demonstration outside both Cloud 9 on West Oakland and Above the Clouds on North Roan Street on Saturday.
Eldridge said student protesters from Daniel Boone and David Crockett high schools, parents and people from the community will be outside the two shops protesting from 9 a.m. until midnight. The group has invited local and state government leaders to speak to protesters at Cloud 9 at 3 p.m. and have scheduled a candlelight vigil to be held near the store at 9 p.m.
Tammy Eldridge said she and PASSD began planning and organizing the protest following a Feb. 21 incident at Daniel Boone in which a student was restrained and hospitalized after becoming uncontrollable. The cause of boy’s hospitalization has not been confirmed.
While the incident at Daniel Boone was followed by a flurry of local protests and public discussions of criminalizing synthetic drugs, Cartwright blamed state and local attempts to ban synthetic drugs and the media for creating a panic that has only brought more customers to the shops.
In the years he operated White Cloud, Cartwright said the crime rate in the Bloomingdale neighborhood decreased. On the day following the first protest at the shop, he said his sales increased from an average of $4,000 to $5,000 a day to $5,000 to $6,000.