Next generation opens Roberts' Auction in Arkville
By Brian Sweeney
Ed Roberts Jr. got his first taste of auctioneering at the age of eight. During the following decades he spent a good deal of time assisting with Roberts’ Auction, which was owned by his parents, Sandy and Ed Roberts Sr.
While he helped out with the Fleischmanns-based business, Ed’s primary occupation was contracting. He later added the installation of overhead doors as a specialty. Like many physically demanding careers, the work took a toll on Ed.
In recent years, the strain of contracting on his back has been a growing concern. Along with offering treatments for his aching back, several doctors gave Ed the same advice: Find a new profession.
While discussing his options for a line of work that was less physically punishing, Ed’s wife, Donna, suggested that he consider auctioneering — the business that his family had been involved with for 40 years.
“He said ‘Absolutely no way,’” Donna recalled.
“And here I am,” Ed says with a smile.
Ed’s parents had grown tired of the auction grind and closed Roberts’ Auction in November 2007 after selling the building that housed their business.
After he and Donna discussed the pros and cons of entering the auction field full-time, Ed ultimately came to the conclusion that his wife had been emphasizing.
“Auctioneering is the only other thing I know,” he conceded.
Overcoming his reluctance to jump full time into auctioneering, Ed approached the new owner of his parents’ former auction building about reopening in that location, but was told there were other plans for the building.
Ed then set up a meeting with Arkville businessman Joe Moskowitz. Ed had performed renovations at several of Joe’s properties and knew that Joe was looking to utilize the 4,000-square-foot area at the rear of Casey Joe’s Coffee Shop.
A done deal
“One Saturday morning, I came down and talked to Joe and he said ‘Yes.” I made up my mind within in hour,” Ed recalled.
That was in March. Work began immediately to remove the items stored in the back of the building, which had served for decades as the headquarters for Crosby Brothers Farm Supply. The renovations included electrical upgrades and adding a loading dock and office.
By May, Roberts’ Auction was open for business.
The initial auction included many items from the former Owl’s Nest restaurant in Highmount. Each week, though, brings goods from many sources.
Ed explained that part of the fun of the business is that every auction features a whole new collection of goods. The items come from households (including entire estates), businesses and other random sources. One thing is certain, there’s never a shortage of pieces to be auctioned.
“We have antiques, collectibles and just about everything else,” Ed commented. “Auctions are good for the economy. When people need to get rid of something, we provide the sales outlet.”
Donna noted, “Every week I’m writing out pretty decent checks to people and they’re very happy.”
She said that, on an average week, about 30 people receive checks for their goods that were sold at the auction. During a normal week, between 500-600 items are sold. Roberts’ Auction also buys estates outright, in addition to its consignment sales.
Although Ed’s parents had grown weary of the auction grind, they have been very supportive of the effort to revive the business in the Arkville location. Not only did Ed Sr. and Sandy give their blessings to use the Roberts’ Auction name, they also provided sophisticated software that greatly enhances the operation.
With the computerized payment system, each customer is assigned an account number. Successful bidders’ numbers are entered into the computer, along with the items they bought and the bid price. When winning bidders leave, a sales slip has already been generated for all of their purchases.
While Ed and Donna want to put their own stamp on the business, there are many elements from the original Roberts’ Auction that they plan to incorporate.
“We wanted to keep the name. Ed’s parents were successful and consistent. People knew the auction was going to be held every Saturday at 7 p.m.,” Donna remarked.
Ed noted, “We’re carrying on the family tradition. Dad still helps out on auction nights.”
In addition to providing the opportunity for folks to buy and sell goods, Roberts’ Auction is a also a fun outing for many regulars. Ed noted that many longtime customers have kept their bidding numbers from the original auction for sentimental reasons.
As it was at the old place, prime seating at the auction is coveted. Ed recalls the night, a number of years ago, the seating issue went a bit too far.
“Years ago, people would reserve chairs. One night, a fight broke out in the parking lot over a chair. That’s when my father starting renting chairs. People pay $10 a year and get the same seat each week,” Ed explained.
The chair rental policy has been continued at the new business. And the chairs have been full — more than 200 people have been turning out for the auction each week.
Ed pointed out that many of the “regulars” from the old days have returned and there are always a number of new faces in the crowd.
“The auction was a very big social event and we wanted to keep that – so people would be comfortable,” Ed stated. “Several weekenders said they didn’t come up as much because they had nothing to do (after the auction was closed).”
Despite their experience in the business, Ed and Donna admit that it took him a few weeks to adapt to their new roles as proprietors.
“Now we’re more relaxed and it’s showing,” Donna said.
The owners receive plenty of help from family members and a few friends — especially Jim and Renee Gauntt and their son, Sean, who pitch in on auction night and assist with the busy cycle of moving out sold items and bringing in new pieces for the following week.
Interestingly, the opening of Roberts’ Auction has spurred activity at a number of surrounding eateries. Casey Joe’s provides many of the refreshments on auction night, but Ayla’s restaurant, Donatello’s Pizzeria, Arkville Bread and Breakfast and Maine Black Bear are all offering items geared toward auction patrons. Ayla’s has even named a sandwich after the auction house — the Roberts’ Wrap.
Another beneficiary of the new Roberts’ Auction is the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society. At each auction, a 50-50 drawing benefits the society and donations on behalf of the society from members are sold without a commission.
As they head into the busy summer season, Ed, Donna and their son, Cameron, are working long hours to establish their new enterprise. One thing that Ed says won’t change, is that old standby: “Roberts’ Auction – Where you get something for nodding.”
The new Roberts’ Auction is located at the intersection of Route 28 and county Route 38 in Arkville. Auction previews are Fridays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Auctions are held each Saturday at 7 p.m. For more information, please call 845 586-6070.