Ollie's

Ollie’s Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

QUESTION: How was it possible for Ollie’s Bargain Outlet to have a grand opening this week? It seems like that’s a non-essential business, and what about social distancing?

ANSWER: This is a combination of several questions I received on this topic. The city of Longview didn’t have a specific count of the number of complaints it had received on this subject, but spokesman Shawn Hara said “multiple complaints” were received at the city’s call center and through social media, emails and calls to city offices.

“Just like many stores, Ollie’s is deemed essential because of the items they sell. However, just because a business is essential doesn’t mean it is essential that you shop there when it is crowded or social distancing can’t be maintained,” Hara said.

A company representative also pointed to Ollie’s classification as an “essential business.”

“Ollie’s first priority is the health and safety of our team members and customers, including Longview Texas, and all the communities we serve,” Jean Fontana said in an email. “Ollie’s Bargain Outlet stores will remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that shoppers can buy essential items they need, including a wide assortment of name brand non-perishable food, over the counter medications, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, hardware and automotive products, and other basic necessities.”

Fontana also said the first hour of each day is reserved for seniors and people with compromised immune systems, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday.

Hara said the city police department also was in contact with the store.

“The Longview Police Department visited with the store and talked with management on the day of their opening, and then followed up with store management (on Thursday) to ensure that social distancing practices were being implemented,” Hara said. “The store management was putting in place measures such as having staff watch for issues related to social distancing, putting social distancing markers at check-out and doing extra sanitation of carts.”

The police department is visiting with businesses to ensure compliance with the governor’s COVID-19 directives, Hara said. Violations are a Class B misdemeanor, which can result in fines of up to $1,000 and/or 180 days in jail.

“In situations where the Longview police receive calls and complaints concerning possible violations of the order, officer discretion has to prevail in enforcing the order. Action can include asking for compliance of the order, filing an offense report to be forwarded to the district attorney, or an arrest as a last resort,” Hara said. “That said, we do ask that people not tie up the police emergency line with those types of complaints.If people have a concern, please contact the City of Longview coronavirus hotline at 903-237-1215.”

The city is printing yard signs that will be placed at large retail locations to remind people to use social distancing guidelines.

”It is important for people to remember to stay 6 feet apart and to stay in groups of less than 10 when in confined spaces,” Hara said.

Q: This is the third week KLTV anchors Jennifer Kielman and Anissa Centers have not been on air. I surely hope that they are not ill! Have you heard any news about them?

A: They are fine, but they are practicing social distancing like the rest of us.

Those of us involved in providing news each day are considered essential workers, so, we’re working, but practicing social distancing like everyone is supposed to be doing. That’s why you’re not seeing Centers and Kielman on air very much.

Here’s what Pat Stacey, KLTV general manager, said about what’s happening:

“We are about 90% scattered now all across East Texas. And that includes both Jennifer and Anissa,” he said. “They are both still working hard from home but behind the scenes. We have included them in some newscasts and a lot of streaming content, but it is hit and miss. They are both doing well.”

Many of us here at the News-Journal and our sister newspapers are working from home, too, while we keep everyone up to date on what’s happening with COVID-19. Answer Line always works at home, but now I do it while making sure two kids are staying on top of school work their teachers have provided. (Have I said how much I love teachers? I’m going on record again.) Strangely enough, Mr. Answer Line, the News-Journal’s managing editor, still goes into the office every day. I’m thinking about sending the 1-year-old husky who recently joined our family to work with him.

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.