When the gavel comes down at the close of each bidding war, a hush comes over the crowd — then those interested move to the next item and start again.
Such is the life of Bill Neal and his wife Paula, who have owned and operated Ross Auction Inc. in downtown Colorado Springs for the past 16 of its 90-plus years.
The large industrial warehouse at 815 S. Sierra Madre St. is filled to the brim each week with consigned items, and each weekend — with a noontime sale on Friday and again at 10 a.m. Saturday — is emptied once more.
“People live very interesting lives,” Bill Neal said. “I think that the most interesting thing is seeing these collections and personal items from families that you can almost read their histories through what they’re selling.”
As Colorado’s oldest continuously operated auction house, Ross has quite a history of its own.
When the Neals moved northwest from Houston in the mid 1990s, they were looking for a venture — and they found Marie Ross.
“Old Ms. Ross,” as Neal affectionately calls her, was in her 80s at the time and ready to retire from the business that her father-in-law had founded in 1921. So the two Texans decided to dive into an industry about which they knew nothing.
“I had never even been to an auction before,” Neal said. “I was like, ‘What’s a Ross Auction?’”
When the purchase was finalized in 1997, Ross was located under the Colorado Avenue bridge at 109 S. Sierra Madre Ave.
“The thing that stands out is that there is something here for everyone and for every budget.”
– Thomas Langeland,
But despite the change of command and locale, Ross is still family owned, operated and oriented.
“It’s a family business. I love the customers that come in — they’re characters and so are we,” said Thomas Langeland, Neal’s nephew and Ross’s full-time auctioneer. “We try to take care of the community as much as they take care of us.”
Langeland is addicted to the art of auctioneering and driven by the thrill of the sale.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I take pride in what I do, and I think that shows.”
He is so passionate about the business that in 2010 he attended the Iowa-based Worldwide College of Auctioneering to become certified.
“It was very rewarding and very informative, but of course you’ve got to want it,” Langeland said. “You have to walk away and learn from it and use those skills every day.”
When he’s not selling Ross’s wares, he’s getting them ready for the weekend bidders. During the days leading to each sale, Langeland and the rest of the crew work on “building the sale,” which means merchandising, organizing and cleaning every item for the Thursday preview.
“My favorite time of the week is Thursday because that’s when everything comes together,” he said. “It’s a sense of pride, and you walk away feeling like you really accomplished something.”
Something for everyone
One can find just about anything inside the 17,000-square-foot auction house, and that’s part of what makes Ross unique. Neal said that rather than typical auction companies, which specialize in high-end items that attract even higher bidders, Ross caters to a wider range of customers with its sell-it-all attitude.
“We sell everything from Tupperware and pots and pans to the finest antique furniture. That’s what makes us unique,” Neal said. “We don’t just say, ‘Give me your best stuff.’”
But although the business has more to offer, not every year is profitable. Neal said there have been years when he’s been forced to cover Ross’ losses.
“When it gets right down to it, the buyer sets the price,” he said. “We have very limited control on the market.”
“We used to do a million dollars every year, and now I think we’re doing close to $700,000,” Neal said, adding that during the typical weekend he sells between 800 and 1,000 items.
Neal says that regular public auctions are a dying breed and that he has seen a major paradigm shift in the niche industry since acquiring the business.
But that has its relative pros and cons, according to the owner.
There are those occasional sales that bring the folks at Ross a handsome sum. Neal said the company sold an 18th century Philadelphia Chippendale chair for $160,000 to the Keno twins of Antiques Roadshow fame, Civil War-era pieces to a New Orleans movie production company, and has auctioned relics from prestigious Colorado Springs venues including The Broadmoor.
“Things used to mean something,” he said, reminiscing about the antiques and family heirlooms that have come and gone. “They had a purpose. They had a shelf life. They had value.”
And the crew at Ross prides itself on offering quality goods at your chosen price, to give locals a convenient alternative to settling on particle-board furnishings from one of many ubiquitous big-box retailers.
“The thing that stands out is that there is something here for everyone and for every budget,” Langeland said.
After all, they don’t make ’em like they used to.
Address: 815 S. Sierra Madre St.
Contact: 632-6693, RossAuction.com
Years in business: 92
Number of employees: 8