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New livestock auctions resounding success

A partnership formed with the goal of meeting a need in the local community has taken off in a way none of the members expected.
Livestock auctions at the Jonesborough Flea Market resumed in November, and the newly constructed building has already been expanded to make room for the crowds.
Joe Wilson, who has owned the Flea Market for 28 years, submitted a site plan for a 46-by-150-foot shed to the Washington County Regional Planning Commission in June 2014 after deciding the service was needed again because local residents were having to carry their animals as far as Mountain City to sell.
“We were taking ours to Mountain City,” said Tommy Johnson who, with his brother, Marty, make up the second half of WJ Auction Co.
“We also knew it was a need because the auctions in Greeneville and Kingsport sell cattle but not sheep and goats.”
Having an auction business is a longtime dream, the brothers say.
“There was one on 107 in the South Central community that we used to go to, and ever since it closed we thought we’d like to have one,” Tommy said.
“We’ve always wanted to be auctioneers ever since daddy took us,” Marty agreed. The problem was finding a location with enough parking. A few casual conversations with Joe led the three to combine forces.
“Joe’s been an auctioneer for 25 years,” Tommy said. “He knows the auctions, and we know the livestock.”
Still, the project was a leap of faith. “We took a chance and built a building hoping people would come, and they have,” Tommy said.
He remembers the first Saturday, wondering if they would have any animals or any buyers. When the auction began, the shed was filled to capacity with 300 people and more were waiting outside to get in.
The biggest night so far drew 400 people. To accommodate the crowds, an addition was built on and the business office was relocated behind the clerks’ window to open up that space for seating.
“As you can see, it’s packed,” Joe said last weekend. “We didn’t expect this kind of attendance. We’ve been open two months, and we’ve already added on to the building for 100 more people.”
Joe pointed to the selection soon to be auctioned, which included 250 sheep, 100 goats and 250 boxes of chickens, in addition to pot-bellied pigs, pigeons and more. WJ begins receiving animals at 11 a.m., and the auctions can continue into the early hours of the morning.
Concessions and a family-friendly atmosphere encourage people to bring their children.
“We had bad weather Valentine’s Day weekend, and the power was off for two hours but people stayed until it came back on,” Marty laughs.
In addition to the number, the makeup of the crowds has been an unexpected surprise. “We thought it would be a local audience, but people are also coming from below Knoxville, North Carolina and Gate City, Virginia,” Tommy said.
In addition to securing licenses from the USDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the Johnsons were required to attend an 80-hour auctioneer school in Atlanta and pass the state auction exam before they were able to act as auctioneers and hold a livestock auction.
“We thought they would teach us to chant, but it was 10 hours a day of business, ethics and law, and we would run our numbers for maybe 30 minutes at the end,” Tommy remembers. “We came back from Atlanta not being able to chant any better than before we went.”
The rapid-fire rhythmic way of speaking that is necessary to entertain the audience and keep the bids coming at a constant pace before rewarding the top price with “Sold!” is something they had to learn on their own, according to Marty. “We had to practice.”
Though nervous the first few times, Marty said he relaxed after observing the crowd.
“You think all 400 people are looking at you, and then you realize it’s only the 10 people interested in the animal that’s being auctioned, and everyone else is having conversations among themselves.”
Both have since perfected the art, and share duties during the night will fellow auctioneer Joe and a fourth auctioneer, Dave Sanders.
Wives, children and friends are also on-hand to volunteer. “We didn’t know we had so many friends until we started this, but they enjoy it,” Tommy said.
“We started a Facebook page in December, and we already have 1,400 followers,” Marty added, shaking his head.
A mainstay is their father, Charles, who Marty said has always supported them and now stays until the last animal is loaded.
“Someone has to do it,” joked Charles who said he has been impressed by the interest from the local community.
“There are lots of people here who don’t have any animals and aren’t going to buy any,” he said. “We thought this would start out small and grow, but I think they are handling it well for as large as it is.”
The growing popularity of