“Can I get $25? C’mon now, what’s wrong with it? The (lamp)shade is at least $20. Now $30, thank you, $35, $40, yes ma’am, $45 anyone? SOLD for $40.”
Jed Lilly’s auctioneer chatter could make you buy a shoeshine chair or a sterling-silver hatpin whether you need it or not.
Combine his constant prattle with more than 100 people in an historic train station, a handful of employees pulling out the 200-plus lots to be shown off one-by-one and some barbecue and homemade dessert, and you’ve got a heck of a night of entertainment.
It might be the attendees that are interesting to watch. It might be one man’s treasure and another man’s junk. Or it could be the exhilaration of finding a real bargain – and getting up the nerve to bid.
“Sometimes we get in some really unusual things that we don’t even know what they are, such as primitive tools or kitchen tools,” said Lilly. “We try to make up a name for it, keep on moving and try to have a good time.”
Old-timers attend each month. You can spot them with their cushions on the hard metal chairs and their bidder-number card taped to the back.
And there are newcomers, who quickly learn the rules thanks to Lilly’s pre-auction introduction.
Folks come earlier than the start time to look over the goods, but the auction starts sharply at 6 p.m. Lilly suggests new visitors come early to “poke around” and register for a bidder’s number to recognize your bid.
Each auction is held at the gallery in downtown Indian Trail, at 125 Indian Trail Road.
Since the early 1900s, the historic building has served as a train depot, general store and post office; now it is the auction gallery, purchased and renovated by Lilly’s father, Bob.
After Bob’s death, Jed Lilly formally took over the family business, which has thrived since 1978.
Auctions typically last seven to eight hours, so it is not uncommon to find antique-hunters hanging out on the gallery’s front porch enjoying conversation while waiting for a certain lot in the catalog.
“We’ve got a real good base, a lot of collectors’ toys and trains and baseball cards,” said Lilly. “And then we have a good deal of designers who are looking to fix up homes or redecorate for clients.”
Lilly said some auctions feature furniture and decorative items from local model homes.
Lilly grew up in the auction business with his dad. Lilly’s wife, Lisa, works the registration booth and collects the money after the bid is closed, keeping on average 10 percent of the buyer’s price and a commission from the seller. His daughter and son also help with the business.
Bidders have fun during the opening lots of crammed bookcases that go for $5 or $20 or more.
Bill Gaut of Mint Hill attends every auction, and tonight has bought a bookshelf full of books, baskets and knickknacks for $5.
“I’ve been coming here for nearly six years and also do a lot of absentee and phone bidding when we travel,” Gaut said. “We’ve bought stuff in Miami sitting on the beach or from a motor home traveling down I-10.
“We come to get good deals. Most of it I buy for personal use, more or less, or for charity and church raffles.”
Gaut’s bookshelf has netted him boxes of Christian books, which he will send to his son, a youth minister in Tennessee.
Other bidders sit and wait with the night’s catalog of items or follow the lots using their iPads open to the Lillys’ site. Two flat-panel monitors adorn either side of the auctioneer’s platform so bidders can get a better look. A gold-frame, mantle-size mirror sells for $10. A marble-top and wrought-iron sofa table sells for $40. And the bidding continues.
“I try to get the top money for the seller,” said Lilly. “But what’s in is either really, really old or really, really new. It’s hard when you have a family that has a dining room set they paid $10,000 for. They are going to be lucky to get $1,000.”
Lilly said dated furniture or goods do not bring top dollar.
“I’m up there stretching, I’m grinding and I’m sweating, hoping I can bring in a good price. Most times, it works out just fine.
“And we have some really, really good people. One man tonight bought a wheelchair and a walker, which he didn’t really need, but the price was so good. He met a man leaving the auction who could hardly walk and walked up, handed him the walker and said, ‘Well here, have a Merry Christmas.’”
Confessions of a first-timer
Attending Lilly’s Auction was a first and I’m glad to report I didn’t come home empty-handed.
I spied two items on the auction list that spoke to the handbag collector in me - Lot 19 was a box of 11 designer purses in nearly mint condition. It didn’t help much when employees brought out the box and showed off the bevy of goods.
I waded in after the first two bids and continued bidding until $130 when I dropped out, saving my guns for the next lot: a new all-leather briefcase in navy and tan manufactured by a designer handbag company.
Bidding started at $10 and I was right in there bidding neck-and-neck with Miss 11 Purses. I stopped at $100, held my breath and it was all mine. I checked the Internet value later for the retail price: $348.
A few gleaned secrets:
• Play it cool. Don’t bid the first time around and keep a poker face, meaning the item really means absolutely nothing to you. Do not squeal and clap when you are the winner.
Eat. The Lilly’s have a family friend’s grandmother do the cooking. I had a canned soda, barbecue sandwich with slaw, my choice of bagged chips and dessert for free. It was customer appreciation night. But the prices are low and the desserts are the main attraction. Don’t miss the chocolate chip pound cake or the blondies with chocolate chips and coconut.
• Don’t be afraid to buy the early lots of bookcases crammed with “stuff” - from books to purses to baskets to kitchen equipment. You never know what might be in them. Bring boxes because you don’t get the bookcase, but plenty of items to pick through. This is a big area for collectors and antique dealers.
• And no matter what you are doing while in the auction room: don’t scratch your head, your nose or wave to an acquaintance. Just trust me.
Conroy: 704-358-5353; Twitter: @ConroyKathleen Conroy: 704-358-5353; Twitter: @ConroyKathleen
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