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How I bought a downtown building for $425

Many of you know this story, but with the economy in the toilet and nearly a dozen buildings downtown empty, I am going to tell it again.

In November 1985, I attended an auction in downtown Peabody. The McMillen family was selling the family grocery store. It was just north of Town and Country Clothing, formerly Keller’s Clothing Store (and currently vacant, but playing host to a display of old Peabody High School sports memorabilia). The McMillens were retiring from the retail grocery business. There was an ancient chopping block in their meat department and I had this idea that no one anywhere knew about the sale and I could get that baby for next to nothing.

Of course, I was wrong.

The chopping block sold for about $500 or $600 — no bargain there. The place was pretty crowded and bidders milled around picking off shelving units, advertising signs, and other miscellaneous merchandise. There was a lot of interest in the little alcove in the back where the McMillens served beer during store hours and were especially busy on Saturday afternoons and evenings. Stories of “remember when” swirled through the crowd as people bought up fixtures, booths, and other odds and ends.

Shortly after noon, it was time to sell the building. I was standing with John Balthrop and Gaylord Maples, both downtown businessmen. I was the only one who had a number. The other two were merely bystanders. The auctioneer started hollering for $10,000. No one moved. It took about 10 minutes, but eventually the price he was asking was only $100.

The bids edged upward in $25 increments for a few bids. Then the man who owned the old Brandt Motel building — which was laden with barrels of toxic material, rodents, and molding merchandise — jumped in at about $250.

Balthrop, who owned the aforementioned clothing store next door, Maples, whose law office was up the street, and I, who owned no building anywhere, quickly decided that toxic materials, rodents, and molding merchandise would be the kiss of death for downtown. We formed an ad hoc partnership.

I raised my bidding number and we were in at $275. The bidding came to a screeching halt at $425 … our bid. The auctioneer took a break to confer with the owners and see if they wanted to accept or reject the bid.

They said they were not going to pay taxes on the building another year.

“Whatever it sells for is what it sells for.” The gavel came down. The three of us were the proud owners of a grocery store/bar that was quickly being emptied of its contents and fixtures. We were required to pay 20 percent down the day of the sale, which came to $85. Sheesh.

Real estate in downtown Peabody had hit a new low.

Eventually Balthrop and Maples decided they really did not want a one-third interest in the building. The Mister and I thought it might make a decent auction house or something so we assumed ownership.

The apartment upstairs had about 50 five-gallon buckets that supposedly were strategically placed to catch water dripping in through the second story roof. But the floors upstairs and down were waterlogged every time it rained. It was not even good for storage.

Before long, we were looking at college costs for the Number One daughter and work on the building took a back seat. We paid taxes and insurance and opened the doors every once in awhile to try and dry it out, but renovation was not a priority.

A year or so after Peabody was accepted into the Main Street program, Gary and Marilyn Jones decided to buy the building and restore it as an example of what could be done with old buildings. They bought it from us for what we had in it. With help from Kansas Main Street, lots of sweat, and research into its history, the Joneses restored it and got it on the National Register of Historic Places.

They did make a silk purse out of that sow’s ear!

And here we are again at another crossroads for the Peabody business community. Almost all of Bakers Furniture & Carpet buildings are for sale. A couple of others are as well. Many of you have moaned and groaned about the Main Street program and the downtown historic district.

Which of today’s vacant buildings do you think will sell for $425? There was a time in 1985 when almost any downtown building would have brought little more than that. This is not the best year in Peabody’s history to be selling downtown property. But neither is it the worst.

The $425 McMillen building became Mayesville Mercantile and has been a viable business in the community since the early 1990s.

The Joneses also refurbished the upper story apartment and it has been home to a dozen or more renters for almost two decades, filling a need for rental property in the community.

As of Oct. 1, Mayesville Mercantile was sold to Susie Schmidt and Morgan Marler. They soon will re-open the store as “Flint Hills Gypsies.” Though it isn’t any of your business or mine, I can tell you that $425 never even saw the light of day in the negotiations.

Another downtown building recently sold to someone willing to go out on a limb for a novel retail business.

So … maybe it is time to quit whining and acknowledge the fact that there still are retail opportunities out there for businesses in Peabody. Yes, they will come and go.

They have since the community was founded.

— Susan Marshall

Last modified Oct. 15, 2009

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