Regulars won’t recognize the place when auctioneer Mike England starts his call at the regular Friday night event in Grandview.
The walls inside England’s Auction have been stripped of old signs accumulated through 41 years. The shark, traffic light and two disco balls have come down from overhead.
Even the bug — or monster, or whatever you want to call that contraption sitting on the ledge above the auction house check-in window since 1980 — goes under the gavel for one last auction.
England turns 72 on Monday. He and his voice are retiring after some 2,400 lively sales.
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David Anderson calls the weekly event entertainment, better than a movie or a ballgame. He’s been to maybe 90 percent of England’s regular Friday sessions.
“A lot of people come in here even though they didn’t want to buy anything. Just to listen,” Anderson said. “We’re going to have to find a new life because it’s going away.”
A work week
To put on the show, England starts Saturday morning. He has to open up so buyers can pick up the larger items bought the night before.
Then the collection begins.
Each auction empties the house. Everything is sold, which means there is nothing for next week’s sale until the auctioneer and his crew go out and find it.
They’ve got a strong incentive to search.
“You don’t have anything this week, you don’t make any money,” said Robert Blake, owner of Gold River Auction in Olathe.
Gold River holds its weekly auction on Saturday nights. Blake said he, England and a few other regular auction houses in the area trade mostly in the same household goods. Everyday stuff.
Auctioneers get a call when someone has died or moved into a care facility and the family needs something done with the entire contents of the house. Auctioneers also take in — and sometimes bid for — the contents of storage units abandoned by renters.
“We do this every week. That big truck never stops,” England said.
The truck is parked outside and has a “for sale” sign. Friday’s auction also includes a lot of moving pads, furniture dollies and similar equipment. It’s why England tells people he’s not only in the auction business but also the moving business.
When the loaded truck arrives at 1530 Duck Road, the trash goes in a dumpster. Items that will sell cover the tables and floor inside the auction house. And at 6 p.m. Friday, England starts his call. The sale typically runs until 10 p. m.
For the crowd, an auctioneer’s rhythm stirs their interest, works their competitive spirits and lands the sale. Those who’ve never been may need to imagine what happens — as if eBay’s bidding happened in person.
The online sale site is no stranger to Blake or England, though neither sell any items online.
“My customers do. That’s what makes this business work,” England said.
Auctioneers say their industry’s relationship with online sales is as much symbiotic as it is competitive. England predicted in an article in The Star in 2000 that his industry would survive the advent of eBay and online auction sites.
As his last sale nears, England’s opinion has changed. Filling the auction house each week takes a lot of work, and that’s on top of honing the auctioneer’s skill needed to empty it again and again.
“I don’t see anybody wanting to do it,” he said of regular auctions. “That’s why I think it’s going to dissipate.”
Going, going, gone
England decided about a year ago that it was time to retire “while I’m still vertical.”
Those signs covering the walls started coming down as he worked them and other merchandise into his auctions.
“I sold all my E.T. stuff last week,” England said, referring to a collection tied to the movie.
About six months ago, he also started shopping around the business.
He’d bought it in 1977 along with his brother and their father. England bought them out four years later. That’s about the time the bug first perched on the ledge above the auction house check-in window.
Someone had made it from an old Evinrude outboard engine housing. Its legs came from old desk lamps. England found it in one of the storage units he emptied.
“I’d take it home, but my wife won’t let me,” said England, who isn’t always serious.
When anyone asks about the oddest item he’s sold, England answers before they finish the question.
He says there is nothing he hasn’t sold. Once it was a coffin. Another time 180 purses.
As it turns out, in all his years, there has been only one thing England couldn’t sell. England’s Auction is shutting down for one reason.
“No takers,” the owner said.
England Auction’s last sale starts at 6 p.m. Friday at 1530 Duck Road in Grandview.