Yesterday I managed to locate and arrive on time for an auction. This was a bankruptcy auction for what used to be a Cold Stone Creamery on north Halsted. Apparently, the owner defaulted, owing lots of money to the landlord and/or bank, and they hired an independent auction company to come in and sell anything that wasn't bolted down (and lots that was).
It was a pretty interesting scene. You check in, give a $200 cash deposit, and they give you a bidding card. The auction staff was running around slapping stickers with lot numbers on everything and there were a couple dozen of us bidders milling around, turning stuff off and on, and waiting for the deal to start.
The auctioneer was a no-bullshit old country boy who sported overalls and an American flag-emblazoned screaming eagle shirt, which all of his staff wore as well. He was wired up to a small PA with a wireless headset and cranked it up pretty loud, getting everyone's attention when he was ready to start. He was all business, stating the rules up front, ordering everyone to turn off their cell phones, and mandating that damn near every stick of goods be bought and paid for within an hour and half.
The crowd in attendance was a mixed bag of tired-looking chef types like myself, a couple wide-eyed, full-of-enthusiasm new restaurant owners, and grizzled old veteran restaurant auction bottom-feeder types. The latter category was populated by older Jewish guys, a few younger Mexicans wielding fat rolls of cash, and a bevy of guys with Middle Eastern names scrawled on their nametags. These are the straight-up opportunists...the auctioneer knew most of them by name, and they have the cash, trucks, and storage space to be able to capitalize on the deals, purchase the big stuff and then turn it around on Craigslist, Ebay, or wherever.
The bidding went pretty fast, but I managed to get a few really good deals. A lot of six 2-gallon cambros went for 20 bucks, as did another lot of four 6" half pans. I picked up five half sheetpans for another 20, and, although I just needed one or two ice cream scoops, I left with fourteen of them, sold all as one lot. Not a bad haul.
It was worthwhile for what I purchased, but the auction itself was the more interesting part. At one point, Bob, the auctioneer, went on a tirade about sawzalls. He was auctioning off a safe that was bolted to the floor, and he just raised his voice and started in, completely unprovoked;
"...and I just want to state right here and now, that there will NOT BE ANY SAWZALLS permitted during the removal of anything sold in this sale? Got that? Have I made myself UNDERSTOOD? No SAWZALLS. The landlord and the bank have entrusted me to make sure that we leave this place in good condition and the last thing I will stand for is you people coming in here and tearing it up! Does everybody read me loud and clear?"
Whoa. I'm sensing there's some backstory. I swear, I've never even used a sawzall, Mr. Auctioneer, sir.
There were some really good deals to be had. The three massive ice cream coolers and Cold Stone signature granite mixing slabs garnered no interest as Bob started up at $3,000 and worked his way down, down, down to $150 each. One guy bought the center one, an Italian-made, shiny chrome ice cream dipping display cabinet that probably cost six grand new less than two years ago.
I spoke briefly with Larry, the owner of Tre Kronor in Andersonville, and he had gotten himself all worked up at the prospect of grabbing a $20,000+ Carpigiani batch freezer (ice cream maker) for $500 before he realized he probably didn't have the truck or the manpower to get it out of there. It ended up going for $1500. He told me that he's hooked on these auctions and that he can't go to one without buying way too much stuff, because he knows the value of this stuff and can't believe the deals. As we continued chatting, someone nabbed a twin cooler/freezer Master-Bilt walk-in unit for $2200.
Nice. But what I was really after was the garbage cans. Have you ever looked at the pricing on these things? Crazy. But they didn't have lot number stickers on them. I scoped them out anyway, and they were beauties....clean, new, no cracks anywhere...a few slim-Jim types and two big Rubbermaid Brutes with dollies for the big loads. I asked one of the auction helpers if they were going to sell the garbage cans (they were listed among the items up for sale on the auction company's website) and he said that Bob always sells everything, so I should wait around after the sale and make him an offer. I was all excited, thinking I was going to get $250 worth of garbage cans for ten bucks or something.
But after the sale was over, I approached Bob and asked about the garbage cans, and he looked at me like I was nuts. "We gotta use'em to clean this place out, bud!" he said, eyes bulging as he cut across the restaurant, attending to about four different things at once, "everything's gotta be cleaned out of here by end of day tomorrow."
Well, ok, then. I stacked up my goods, paid my bill (the total of my winning bids, plus a 12% buyer's premium, minus a 2% discount for paying cash), and high-tailed it back up to Evanston. I kind of liked the auction, but for my purposes, it was kind of a waste of nearly an entire morning.