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County on notice for gas gouging complaints

The recent gasoline shortage prompted the rise of gas prices near the $6 mark at Paradise Gas and Grill Truckstop in Johnson County last week. The store has received backlash from the community and statewide media outlets for its price hike. Photo by David Holloway

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Thanks to the recent gas shortage, Johnson County made several unflattering headlines on state news sources. While prices began to rise, inching closer and closer to the $3 mark, one local company took it too far. Paradise Gas and Grill, a gasoline and convenience store located on the northwest edge of Mountain City, TN, reached prices just shy of $6 for its regular, unleaded gasoline, prompting a barrage of negative feedback on social media, accompanied by locals pledging to boycott the store.

As if the sudden jump of the gas price was not alarming enough, locals report that prices changed while they were pumping their gas and were told to pay the additional cost afterward. Reports show the price increasing several times throughout the day at Paradise Gas and Grill, starting at $3.69 in the afternoon and hitting the $5.99 marker later that evening, but not before state officials and media outlets took note. Paradise Gas and Grill remains open but has dropped its prices back to the local range. The Tomahawk reached out to the organization for its side of the story. 

“Price gouging was not his intention whatsoever,” said employee Donna Eastridge about the owner, who was unavailable for comment at the time of this article. “He was hoping that raising prices would discourage sales and provide gas for locals. Believe me; it cost him some money in the process.”

Locals did not see it that way. Neither did WJHL that reported eight complaints of price gouging throughout Tennessee, citing the Deputy Attorney General’s Office. Johnson County accounted for 75 percent of these. The Tomahawk reached out to the Attorney General’s office for more information on the situation but has yet to receive a reply.The Tomahawk also fielded several calls reporting price gouging, specifically at Paradise Gas and Grill, and social media was exploding with disgruntled locals. Many claimed to have sent in complaints to the state regarding Paradise and encouraged others to do so.

Tennessee is not in a state of emergency, so the typical price gouging statutes are not technically active. Tennessee Deputy Attorney General Jeff Hill explained that there is legislation regarding raising rates outside of the decree.

“There is another law that says you cannot unreasonably raise rates in direct response to a crime or a disaster or terrorism, and that may come into play even without a state of emergency,” said Deputy Attorney Hill.

Hill’s office will examine any submitted claims. Representatives encourage anyone who may be the victim of price gouging to document the encounter by either saving or taking a picture of their receipt. Then use said information when reporting the incident with the Division of Consumer Affairs. File complaints online at www.core.tn.gov/datamart/complaintTNDCI.do?.