Scott Ford teeters on a ladder in a crowd four people deep.
He adjusts his white cowboy hat and shifts his weight from one boot to the other, waiting as a Maytag washer and dryer are wheeled through the throng.
"OK, guys, don’t get emotional on me," he says, as the next item comes up to the auction block. "We’ve got an exciting filing cabinet here. A nice silver one with two drawers. I know how you guys love these things."
As people raise their bid cards and crane their necks for a better view, a woman lifts her arm, waving at a companion across the room.
"And we’ve got a hundred dollars right here," Ford jokes, noticing the woman’s flailing fingers. She claps her hand to her mouth, fearing for a second that she’s bought the cabinet. Ford smiles wryly, and, in mere seconds, the cabinet is sold to someone else for $14.
As chief auctioneer and coowner of Wright Bros. Auctioneers in Mesa, Ford recognizes the subtle difference between a seasoned bidder’s wink and a first-timer’s hesitant hand-raise.
Each week, he auctions off an entire warehouse full of ever-changing goods to collectors, antiques dealers and ordinary people from across the Valley.
Despite the popularity of virtual auction houses like eBay, which would seem to keep people glued to a computer, a large number of Ford’s customers are Internet auction junkies.
"Online auctioning has been a huge boost to our business. It’s made ‘auction’ more of a household word than it’s been in 50 years," says Deb Weidenhamer, president of the Arizona State Auctioneers Association in Phoenix. "Sitting in your pajamas in bunny slippers, browsing items at your own pace, is sometimes just more fun than dealing with a crowd of people."
But at old-fashioned live auctions, people — from jovial auctioneers to determined bidders — are part of the draw.
"Just listening to the auctioneer chant, it intrigues and captivates you," says Jim Hudkins, a retired hotel management executive from Mesa who helps out most days of the week at the Arizona Auction Barn.
That lickety-split Southern drawl keeps the action moving so fast that watching bids climb and competition flare can be as exciting as the auctions’ other lure — bargain basement deals.
"Every week I find something. I can only think of one time I didn’t buy anything," says Orvid Jones, 65. He and Karen Huskisson, 50, are the backbone of Ford’s business.
"There’s a group of about 40 regulars who hit auctions all over town," he says. "They all know each other. They’re like a little auction family."
Thrown into the mix are occasional deal-seekers and newcomers, such as Alvin Castro, 38, and Gloria Enriquez, 22, who were attracted to the dim, noisy warehouse by a newspaper ad.
With his Tommy Hilfiger socks and designer sunglasses, and her high-heeled boots and cocked newsboy hat, the Tempe couple look like they’d be more at home inside the shiny corridors of Scottsdale Fashion Square.
"I’ve never been to an auction. I thought I’d try my luck," Castro says, watching over his sunglasses as ratchets, screwdrivers, shovels and hedge trimmers are snatched up for pennies on the dollar.
Jennifer Koslosky, a Mesa resident, attended her first auction just before Christmas last year. By the second week in January, the 24-year-old former waitress quit her day job and went into the business of reselling her auction finds. She’s already replaced her income.
But she admits she’s sometimes hesitant about putting money down when there’s no guarantee she’ll recoup it online.
"But more than being nervous, it’s like a gambler’s high. Because you’re taking a chance on something," she says, jotting notes on vintage Tyco toy trains in a pocketsized spiral notebook.
Jones and Huskisson agree it’s easy to get hooked on the action. Their Gilbert home is so full of auction merchandise that they’ve rented a storage locker.
"Now that’s full, too, and we’re still coming to auctions," says Jones, laughing.
"It’s intoxicating," Ford concedes. "Once you go to an auction, you’ll find it very hard to buy anything at retail again. The deals are unbelievable."
East Valley auctions
Auction Gallery of Arizona holds general merchandise auctions 6 p.m. Mondays at 1209 N. Country Club Drive, Mesa. Antiques are featured the first Monday of every month. (480) 969-6410.
Wright Bros. Auctioneers hold general merchandise auctions 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Arizona Auction Barn, 526 W. Broadway Road, Mesa. Antique auctions begin at noon the first Saturday of every month. (480) 655-1800.
For other Arizona auctions, contact the Arizona State Auctioneers Association at (800) 801-8880 or visit www.azauctioneers.org.