It's a Thursday night drama in the heart of the city, and anybody can take part.
Auctioneer Andy Kaye, whose Exchange District auction house is the last to hold weekly in-house sales, entertains a noisy crowd, including everyone from discriminating buyers looking for unusual objects to students furnishing their first apartments — plus the usual suspects, such as dealers, wannabes, collectors and Winnipeggers who just love a deal.
"I bought the two side-by-side buildings at 261 and 263 Stanley St. more than 30 years ago," Kaye says. The main floor houses the two large auction rooms, a canteen for Thursday night crowds and a big front office space to greet customers. "There's about 9,000 square feet. I remodelled with new carpet and nicely painted walls. There's a lot of décor." On the office walls is a photo of Kaye in formal wear and a top hat -- the very picture of an old-fashioned auctioneer.
"I've been here for 33 years and I've sold everything from a coffin, to pet pigs, DC-3 airplanes, and even a glass eye!" laughs the owner of Kaye's Auctions, now working the Thursday night "shows" with his sonJason. His business customers include receivers, trustees, financial institutions, trust companies, leasing companies, bailiffs and government agencies.
Kaye also leaves his big, two-address edifice to do auctions all over Winnipeg, rural Manitoba and northwestern Ontario and will auction pretty much anything: furnishings and equipment, goods from bankruptcies and bailiff situations, receiverships, bank auctions, liquidations, retirements, business closures, estates, mortgage sales, commercial/industrial, and restaurant closures.
And he does appraisals. One would think they'd be easy compared to, say, bailiff situations. But not everybody is pleased he's been hired to appraise their precious goods. Impending divorce situations are particularly thorny.
"One time I was hired by a lawyer to appraise the goods in a separation. I went up to the lady's house, rang the doorbell and introduced myself, and said, "I'm here to appraise your furniture. She took one look at me, told me to f off, and slammed the door in my face." An hour later, he says he got a call saying, "Oh, Mr. Kaye, I am so sorry! I thought it was my husband's lawyer who sent you, but it was MY lawyer!" Kaye came back reluctantly, and did the appraisal. "Then I added $200 to her bill for telling me to f off," he chuckles.
Kaye is a business owner in the toughest part of The Exchange, but he is starting to see improvement. "In the beginning it was a bit rough, but in the last five years, I haven't had to hire security guards," he says, although he accredits some of that to a newer Fort Knox-style alarm system. But he says people are helping too, just by being in the streets. "There are more people around all the time and there are more coming."
Red River College students park all the way down to his block during the day now. Surrounding the building are social services like the Salvation Army. Behind his big edifice, the large highrise residential block called Peace Tower is going up as part of the renewal of Chinatown. Plus, there's a church building on the corner of Stanley Street and Alexander Avenue, and Siloam Mission is not far away. "Over the years, if there's been an auction for the bankruptcy of a restaurant and there was food that could spoil, I gave it to Siloam Mission."
Every week a drama unfolds. At the first of the week, estates are coming through the door or being brought down from storerooms on the floors above. Interested buyers who have seen the Thursday online ads at www.kayesauctions.com, drop by to preview goods at 2 p.m. before the real action begins. At 7 p.m. Andy and his son Jason, plus spotters around the room, start hustling. Kaye is a kidder and knows lots of people and teases them. When he starts up the auctioneering patter, he sounds like an engine revving up, with a "hmmm" strung between words to keep the momentum building. Kaye is a professional. He didn't pick up the art of auction patter from locals -- he went to Reisch Auction College in Mason City, Iowa.
"I learned it in a place that felt like a prison," says Kaye. There were 150 to 200 people from around the world and security guards. We were there for two weeks and we couldn't leave except to go to church. They didn't want us to go out and party." But, the young man learned a lot in the two-week intensive course, and came back ready to do business for the next three decades, and more.
"We sell off everything every Thursday," he says of the two large showrooms full of goods. "We don't use reserve bids to keep things back, and then sell them two or three weeks down the road." That means, if you're lucky and there's a soft spot in the auction, you can score something expensive for a ridiculous price. If certain items can't get a starting bid, they end up being combined with more interesting items and are sold and gone. Thursday nights, people pay up and take things home or make other arrangements. Sometimes it may even be a car they bought, when Kaye has taken the crowd outside to auction off a few vehicles by the side of the building.
By Friday morning, the in-house auction drama is pretty much finished for the week. Everything from that week is gone. The whole process will start gearing up again Monday.
"I'm never bored with this work. It's always new, always changing, and every day is different."
Maureen Scurfield enjoys getting a hot Winnipeg deal at an auction herself.