Col. Brent Loberg stands at the front of a huge warehouse-like room, auctioning off bottles of barbecue sauce, jars of olives and boxes of candy.
“Who else wants a Sweet Tart Squeeze here?” Loberg calls in a booming auctioneer voice. “Whoa, that’ll make you pucker up there.”
Another man in a gray T-shirt, a beard and glasses walks through the crowd carrying the strange tooth-paste-looking tubes of candy and saying, “Anybody need a pucker?”
This is the Monday night Sellers Auction in Duluth’s West End neighborhood.
Katie Gooder, paddle #178 and an auction regular for the past two years, explains the bizarre goods being sold.
“There’s a couple guys who come in and they sell food,” Katie says. “Sometimes they have coffee, sometimes they have … See, now you can get bologna.”
She laughs as they pull out the deli meat.
The first Monday night of the month is antique night, where Loberg sells antiques and only antiques. Tonight, though, the offerings are more varied. After the food is gone, Loberg will start auctioning off tables covered with every item imaginable: records, mirrors, clocks, Louis L’Amour books, a rocking horse, a set of kitchen knives, a metal detector.
“They sell everything here,” Katie says. “Except animals. I don’t think he’s done any animals.”
As a matter of fact, he has.
“We do a few farm sales every so often,” Loberg says. “November I sold three cows.”
Loberg’s world exists at the top of a wide staircase on the corner of 21st Avenue West and Third Street, past the faint smell of cigarette smoke and mothballs. A significant crowd is gathered here. Most of the people have paddles in their back pockets. The room is decorated with neon signs, a mounted canoe and a small race car, among other things. Loberg buys the decorations himself.
“I buy goofy stuff once in a while,” he says. “Like those mannequins over there.”
He’s referring to two naked mannequins watching stoically from inside a glass case in the front of the room.
Loberg has been running the Sellers Auction in this same building for 30 years.
“Something I kind of fell into and liked it and I thought, you know, this is gonna be fun,” Loberg says. “Just a real interesting business.”
Loberg went to “auction school” in Iowa.
“It’s a two-week school and then you graduate, and bingo!” Loberg raises his arms in the air. “Here I am!”
The title of “colonel” doesn’t come from the military – it comes from auction school. Loberg says that after the Civil War, only the colonels could sell the old army equipment. That’s why auctioneers started using the title.
Loberg’s weekly auction is not just for the casual observer, although anyone can walk in and feel at home pretty quickly.
“It’s a huge community of people,” Katie says. “A lot of people just do the whole circuit.”
Katie goes to auctions with her husband, Bill.
“Somebody had told us a long time ago about the auction and we had nothing to do one night,” Katie says, “and then it just became a habit.”
Bill says from under his Navy hat and sunglasses, “Something to do on Monday night. Gets to be like family around here.”
He holds a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates that he says he bought for Katie (“She went on a diet, she won’t eat ‘em”) and he passes the chocolates out to anyone who will take one.
“Take two, they’re small,” he says to a passerby.
Bill and Katie are selling coins, gold and silver, at this particular auction. Katie sees something she wants – the first item she has bid on tonight.
“Bill, will you go get that lamp oil for me?”
Katie hands him the paddle and he hands her his Styrofoam cup of coffee. He ambles up to a table in the front with a crowd around it. The bidding here, Katie says, never gets too heated.
“There’ll be bidding wars ’cause sometimes you just really want it,” she says. “When you walk away you go, ‘It’s mine, it’s just mine!’ It’s really fun … People are never mean about it or spiteful. There are a lot of fun people here.”
Some of the observers are antique sellers or auctioneers themselves, such as Patrick Miller.
Miller sits in a rolling chair near the back, watching the proceedings with an educated eye. He’s been buying and selling since he was 16 years old.
One of the best turnovers he ever made, Miller says, was when he bought a painting of an elephant and a tree with a nude woman painted into it. He bought it for $300 and sold it later that day for $3,000.
“It’s more luck of the draw,” Miller says. “I haven’t become a millionaire off of one piece yet, but hopefully someday.”
The auction will run until 10 or 11 p.m., but the same crowd will no doubt gather again soon, looking for an oddity or a bargain.
Tonight, though, Bill is set on taking one thing home.
“That red head up front,” he says of his wife.”
2103 W. Third Street
Duluth MN 55806
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