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Coping with COVID-19

Staff writer

Bans on mass gatherings inspired a Cottonwood Falls auction company to explore new ways to conduct sales.

Chuck Maggard, auctioneer for Griffin Real Estate and Auctions, said the business was trying virtual tours of homes and online auctions.

Online might not be successful, Maggard waned, because small communities really enjoy live auctions, and friends, relatives, and supporters come to bid.

They may not do that without the interaction of live auctions.

“I think we’re probably going to start having them again,” he said. “I’m optimistic. I think people are eager to get back to it.”

Griffin has not had live auctions since mass gathering limits were imposed, but one is scheduled for June 30.

“We are doing a curbside auction for a house here in Cottonwood Falls,” Maggard said.

The auction business brings large crowds of people together to hunt for bargains or things they need. Stay-at-home orders and mass gathering limits have taken a toll on both the businesses and people wanting to sell things.

Van Schmidt, who owns Schmidt Auction north of Newton, said some people have not been able to schedule them as soon as needed.

His auction firm had a spring full of sales lined up, but all had to be rescheduled.

“It’s been stressful on the families that they cannot make the move,” Schmidt said. “Having the sale, inviting their family and friends and church members. I know one family that already moved into a retirement center. It’s hard for them. They can’t go in and out to go home and work on their sale.”

His next auction will be Saturday.

“It’s going to be difficult to keep people six feet apart,” Schmidt said.

He plans to place merchandise trailers apart from each other. He also plans to spread merchandise on the ground as much as possible if yards or lawns will permit that.

“It’s household sales that are going to be affected a little more,” Schmidt said.

Auctioneer Lyle Leppke, Hillsboro, said limits on mass gathering caused him to reschedule several auctions.

“It’s not fun,” his partner, Roger Hiebert, said. “We have a major antique auction that we would have done in the spring.”

Auctions often are needed at difficult times for people, he said. They may have had a death in the family or may be having financial trouble and the bank says “now.”

One client who earlier scheduled an auction had to postpone, but that may have been beneficial.

“The seller had hoped to move earlier, but hasn’t moved yet,” Hiebert said. “They live in the country, and it’s kind of a secluded place. Now it’s kind of different.”

Leppke Auctions did have two land auctions after COVID-19 slowed, Hiebert said. Because the auctions were outside and about 40 people showed up, social distancing was not a problem.

“There wasn’t a mask in the crowd,” Hiebert said.

Now that limits have been lifted, Leppke plans to schedule more auctions, possibly as soon as next month.

“We hope to fire back up and we’ll see how the public reacts,” he said.

Leppke said he thought people who really needed to get things sold found ways to do it.

He said people who attended a recent exotic animal auction at Parsons were shoulder to shoulder.

He thinks he will likely take an approach to social distancing that he’s seen other auctioneers take.

“Come and do what’s good for yourself,” Leppke said. “If you need to be farther away, stand farther away.”

Auctioneers themselves probably will not wear masks, he said.

“Part of communication is face-to-face and eye-to-eye,” he said. “We’re hard to understand as it is.”

Some changes may focus on how the way cashiers collect payments.

“I don’t know what we’ll do different,” Hiebert said. “It depends on what the rules will be.”

Last modified June 10, 2020

 

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