A Thriving Bid-ness

Golden Gavel’s weekly estate auctions in East Windsor pack the house after emptying houses.


Ray Bendici

“What do I have for an opening bid for this cherry table, lot R714? Do I have one hundred? One hundred in the back. Do I have one twenty-five? One twenty-five here in the front. Do I have one fifty? One fifty? One fifty in the back. Do I have one seventy-five? One seventy-five. Two hundred? Two hundred. Two twenty-five? Do I have two twenty-five? Two twenty-five once? Two twenty-five? Two twenty-five . . . sold. Lot R714 sold to bidder 120 for $200. Next item!”

And so goes the rapid, seemingly breathless delivery from auctioneer Ralph Labozzo at Golden Gavel in East Windsor as lot after lot is auctioned. The table goes for $200. A signed Curtis Jere sculpture fetches $175. Hummel figurines sell at $25 each. A full set of cobalt glass dinnerware is a steal at $125. A box of power tools nets $30 . . . and on and on for the almost three hours straight before a short break is taken.

In its 10th year, Golden Gavel is a weekly estate-auction business, owned and operated by Patrick Soucy, a licensed and certified auctioneer and appraiser. The affable Soucy employs a full-time staff of five with 11 part-timers, all of whom seem quite busy, constantly displaying, moving and marking merchandise. “We’re hopping,” he says, evidenced by the few hundred eager attendees on this Thursday night.

Golden Gavel is located in a former supermarket on Route 140 that Soucy bought and specially redesigned for his business. It has two warehouses (one for arriving items, one for sold items), and two halls for auctions. The smaller hall is primarily for the early-bird auctions, stocked with items you’re more likely to find at a tag sale; in the span of an hour, Soucy auctions off the entire 170 lots, everything from snowblowers to record players to lunch boxes.

The main hall is dedicated to the true estate auctions, with a podium, rows of chairs and TV monitors suspended from the ceiling that offer close-ups of items up for bid. A TV is also positioned near the snack bar. (Arrive hungry and treat yourself to delicious homemade fare like breaded pork chops or a slice of chocolate cream pie.) The rest of the hall is open space, filled this evening with between 400 and 500 lots—furniture, paintings, collectibles, jewelry, rugs, books, coins, dolls and much more. There seems to be a sea of objects, yet amazingly, by the end of the night, every lot will have been sold and the room cleared; next Thursday, both rooms will be jam-packed again, with items and bidders. In the crowd are specialty collectors, other auctioneers, eBay entrepreneurs and bargain hunters. Soucy estimates half are weekly regulars, a quarter are monthly, and the rest are random visitors. It doesn’t cost anything to get a bidding number.

Speaking of money, Golden Gavel operates on a stepping-scale commission: For an object that goes at auction for over $1,000, Golden Gavel gets a 15 percent commission; for objects sold in the $500 to $999 range, it’s 25 percent; for $50 to $499, it’s 35 percent; and for items $50 or less, it’s 50 percent. “Some people’s eyes go wide when they see the 50 percent,” acknowledges Soucy. “But the majority of those items might end up in the trash anyway, so people realize that 50 percent of something is better than nothing, or than having to pay to have it hauled away.”

Actually, not having to deal with the hassle of cleaning out a departed one’s home is also an appealing convenience to many. “We will go in and completely empty the home, even broom-clean it,” says Soucy. “We then have an auction within a few weeks, and the following Thursday, there’s a check waiting here for pickup, or we’ll mail it.” 

Estates are referred to Soucy—about half come through personal recommendations from previous clients, while the rest are from attorneys who have come to rely on Golden Gavel’s experience. Most are from within a two-hour driving radius of East Windsor. Soucy and Labozzo usually go out in advance, meeting with families and negotiating what will be sold, and are then followed by three trucks and a moving crew. Items are taken back to the Golden Gavel facility, where they are appraised and tagged for auction—cloth-covered items like couches or mattresses (which Golden Gavel is certified to sell) are also sanitized.

Depending on the size and nature of the estates, each auction can feature items from three to 30 different estates. Soucy also gets items on consignment. “To me, this is a very ‘green’ business,” he says. “It’s a form of recycling—selling stuff rather than trashing it.”

After the break, with more than half the crowd still in attendance, the action resumes with “request time,” when items people are specifically interested in are brought up to, and arranged around, the podium. During this time, a chair is accidentally knocked over, causing a loud crash.

“Never a dull moment,” laughs auctioneer Labozzo. “Now, what do I hear for Lot R830?”

For more info and previews of upcoming auctions, visit goldengavel.com.

A Thriving Bid-ness

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