Updated: June 3, 2013 2:15PM
Dawn Pelc hoisted item after item into the air, hoping for a buyer.
The St. John woman held her first public auction Saturday morning at her new business, Last Straw Auctions, and she hustled her way through most of the day.
I couldn’t believe the countless items on display. Knickknacks, cookie jars, lamps, vases, pictures, and a dusty old twin-blade fan that may – or may not – have worked. Yet even that sold.
The items were from the estate of an older woman, as well as some consignment stuff. As the old sales pitch goes, everything must go. And most of it did.
The items were on public display, inside and outside Pelc’s new business, located at 208 S. Court St. in Crown Point, one block south of the Square. The building, built in 1925, was once a service station and a popular gathering point for locals, she told me while auctioneer Jim Smick rattled off items for sale.
“Who wants this radio?” he asked in trademark sing-song style. “Let’s start out with one dollar. There’s a dollar. Do I hear two dollars? Two dollars, two dollars, do I hear two dollars? Sold!”
And on it went for hours with customers quietly raising their numbered placard to place a bid.
Pelc’s business was swarming with curious people seeking a quick deal, circling around the items located inside and out. Doors, cabinets, an old dentist’s chair, tables, a dated water pump — imagine your great-grandmother’s house emptied and put on display.
What caught my attention was the obvious fact that one woman’s junk is another woman’s antique, and that one man’s stuff is another man’s collectibles. They call it “repurposing” but I’ve never understood our collective fascination with such a thing.
“Who wants these Asian paintings for two dollars?” chirped Smick in front of a large American flag, an appropriate symbol for such a traditional slice of Americana.
We love our stuff
We love our “stuff,” and we can’t get enough of it. We love stuff so much that we’re always on the lookout for someone else’s discarded stuff. We have so much stuff that some people’s homes are bursting with it, forcing its owners to put the stuff into storage. Or to buy a shed to store it. Amazing.
This can lead to hoarding, a mental illness condition that I will explore in a later column. But let’s return to the auction, which opened up another “ring” of auctioneering by noon that day.
“Can I get a dollar for this chair?” asked another fast-talking auctioneer. “How about two dollars? Two dollars? OK, one dollar. Sold!”
Pelc took a break during the auction to add behind-the-scenes insights into the business of publicly displaying someone’s stuff for all to see. And then to bid on it.
“It’s interesting to go through people’s belongings to see what they have, and piece together what kind of person they were,” she said. “Things they may have stashed in their closets, basement, or garage. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Pelc is in the minority in the auctioneering industry, a woman in a river of male faces, voices, and attitudes.
“I have found that the competition is fierce, and the environment somewhat hostile,” said Pelc, who searched south Lake County for nearly a year for a brick-and-mortar location.
A fellow auctioneer has already called Pelc and told her to remove her auction posts from a public auction forum, she said. The auctioneer also allegedly called her client to say the same thing, Pelc noted.
“There seems to be a lot of competition in auctioneering to gain a territory and remain the one and only, or the most popular,” she told me. “Plus, I arrived at my shop last week to find the front window shattered. It looked like a fist pounded on it. I don’t see how me and my 75-year-old mother are a threat to an established auctioneer, but I guess we are.”
Other than that, her neighboring business owners have been friendly and welcoming.
“The townsfolk have been curious and enthusiastic with the prospect of an auctioneer within their neighborhood fabric,” said Pelc, the first non-auto related business at that site. “I found Crown Point to be a charming choice.”
Residents have wandered in to greet her, relaying stories how they used to buy mini bottles of soda pop there or how they found their first job at previous businesses.
Pelc has a work history in Northwest Indiana’s not-for-profit world for several community service agencies. The Food Bank of NWI, the National Kidney Foundation, Head Start, and Southlake County Community Services, to name a few.
“In an effort to cast a larger net in the nonprofit waters, I chose auctioneering as an outlet to do so,” she said.
After consulting with her clients, she asks if she can earmark a percentage of the net sales from the auction to their deceased loved one’s charity of choice. Pelc also donates a percentage of her profits to that charity, for instance a cut from Saturday’s auction went to Sunshine PAWS, a canine rescue, shelter and adoption organization in Crown Point.
“While not everyone feels compelled to assist a charity, it is presented as a viable option for those who feel a need to give back through their loved one’s estate as a legacy,” said Pelc, a state-licensed auctioneer and a member of the Indiana Auctioneer Association.
On Saturday, I learned that public auctions also serve as a viable option to quickly liquidate items in these tough times. Think of them as garage sales on steroids.
“An auction still uses the basic economic 101 formula of bringing products to the market and receiving fair market value,” said Pelc, who can be reached at email@example.com or 365-2874.
“All in all, everyone had fun today, we made some money for the seller, and all the buyers walked away happy. Mission accomplished.”