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Iconic Johnson City businesses adjust to COVID-19

Robert Houk • Mar 27, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Johnson City business owners Jack Cox and Dan Mahoney have seen a host of changes and challenges during their many decades in the retail trade.

Both say they have never witnessed anything quite like the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“It’s unbelievable, and it’s happening to all businesses,” said Cox, who owns the 91-year-old Shamrock Beverage and Tobacco, 300 W. Walnut St., which has closed its inside to customers and is only offering curbside pickup and drive-through services. “We’re hanging in there.”

Mahoney has also closed the inside of Mahoney’s Outfitters, 830 Sunset Drive, to customers and is operating a drive-through service from a tent pitched outside the store.

“People have been asking if I have ever seen anything like this,” Mahoney, who has operated his outdoors business for 60 years, said this week. “This is absolutely new territory. We can’t complain. We have to do something to help the situation.”

The two business owners say they have closed public access to their facilities to protect both their employees and customers from the spread of COVID-19. They say it’s important to practice “social distancing,” and it was becoming difficult to do so inside their stores.

“People need to follow the 6-foot rule,” Mahoney said. “That’s the main way this virus is transmitted.” 

Mahoney said his is one of many small businesses that don’t do online sales, which is why he has set up a drive-through service.

The outfitters store has suspended gun sales, and is now concentrating on its clothing, sporting and outdoors gear to help people who Mahoney said might be going “stir crazy” during the pandemic.

“We’ve been selling a lot of socks and other clothes, and I’ve seen some trout baskets going out,” Mahoney said. “If you come by, we’ll gladly fix you up.”

Cox said Wednesday he couldn’t remember the last time the Shamrock shut its front doors to the public.

“We might have closed for a really bad snow storm,” said Cox, whose father bought the Shamrock in 1931. “It might have closed a few times during World War II for shortages.”

Cox said his customers understand the reasons for the new way he conducts business. He said the Shamrock already does “a lot of business” through its drive-through window.

“People have been so helpful,” he said. “One man came by to give our employees hand sanitizers.”

Cox said most of his employees are in their 20s, and they are more “worried about their old boss” than themselves. Like his employees, Cox said he is taking all the necessary hygiene and distancing precautions while trying to make the best of an unusual situation. 

“One employee has a daughter in first grade, and we made a fort for her in the back room,” he said.

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