Greg Farner with Bay Area Auction Services opens the bidding on items inside the St. Petersburg Pier. Hundreds of bidders were going for surplus inventory, furniture, restaurant equipment, store fixtures and memorabilia. JAY CONNER/STAFF
BY CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL Tribune staff
Published: June 11, 2013
Updated: June 12, 2013 at 01:16 AM
ST. PETERSBURG - As closing-down sales go, this one was a little special. Items such as a rusted 6-foot-tall, 400-pound anchor, a concierge desk and a Harry Potter bubble gum machine - each representing a piece of St. Petersburg history - went under the auctioneer's hammer Tuesday as Pier business owners and city officials auctioned off leftover equipment, unsold merchandise and once-in-a-lifetime oddities from the soon-to-be demolished waterfront icon. The auction drew more than 300 people, a roving mass of bargain-hunters, souvenir-seekers, savvy business owners and curious onlookers that followed auctioneers up and down the five-story inverted pyramid, slowly picking it clean. A desktop computer for $70, a turquoise necklace for $10, a well-worn Columbia Restaurant stock pot for $40 - all were quickly snapped up by a crowd that passed on very few items.
Driving the sales were fast-talking auctioneers from Bay Area Auction Services, who whizzed through lot after lot, beseeching and cajoling bidders to go that little bit higher. With a speaker attached to his belt and a microphone clipped to his shirt, auctioneer Greg Farner wheeled a makeshift three-step auction stand around The Pier, stopping at each item. "Don't wink at me or touch your nose," he told the crowd, holding the numbered cards they used to bid. "We don't want to miss anyone's bid." Bidding was fiercest for items with the strongest ties to The Pier. A small tiki hut that served as a ticket booth for Dolphin Cruises sold for $375. Its new home will be Bay Waters Inn on St. Pete Beach. Several people, including an online bidder, made offers for a framed poster with pictures of The Pier and the Columbia Restaurant logo, quickly driving the price past $400. The winning bid of $450 came from St. Petersburg resident Sue Peters. "My daughter sent me here to get something to remember The Pier by," she said. A few business owners attended the auction to see how their final sale fared. Carol Gray, owner of Crystal Mirage, auctioned off dozens of unsold crystal figures and items, such as ornamental seashells, for well below their retail value. After 25 years at The Pier, she has no plans to relocate her business. "It's like death by a thousand cuts," she said. "It's not for the money; it's just to be done." Up on the fourth floor in the Columbia restaurant, auction items included chairs, tables, tray caddies and even mops and brooms. The auctioneer roamed from the seating area to the kitchen, with the crowd in tow. The hostess station where staff welcomed diners as they emerged from the elevator sold for $65, a mahogany humidor for $190. James Keene and wife Elizabeth Perez-Keene snapped up 65 Columbia chairs at the knock-down price of $10 each. They plan to refurbish the chairs to use in Pisces Sushi, a new restaurant they are opening in August in Clearwater. "We have been waiting since we heard the restaurant was going out of business," said Elizabeth Perez-Keene. The Pier, which closed May 31, is scheduled to be demolished in August, although city officials are still awaiting permits. What will replace The Pier is less certain. A grassroots movement has forced a referendum on the Lens, the futuristic design chosen to replace the inverted pyramid. Residents will vote on whether to move forward with the Lens on Aug. 27. It is not expected city officials will release final sales numbers from the auction except for items belonging to the city, which included trash bins, the concierge desk and umbrellas. Gulfport resident C.J. Mael said he just came to see the auction and The Pier one more time. He ended up buying six items including earrings, a box of crystal pyramids and a large Christmas tree ball. He wondered whether he would be able to buy the aluminum decorations shaped like seashells mounted on the gazebos on The Pier approach before it is demolished. "I'm a fan of The Pier," he said. [email protected] (727) 215-7654 Twitter: @codonnellTBO