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Another person's treasure: Local auction houses thriving

The goods and customers keep coming, even with the switch to online-only sales for Alberta's auction houses.

In-person bidding may be long gone but a Calgary senior doesn’t hesitate signing up and checking out online auction sites for many of her household needs.

"I've bought food to furniture. A little bit of everything," said Stephanie Schickerowski, who even purchased her Hyundai vehicle at auction.

"For anybody who is struggling in today's economy it's a great way to save money," said the 67-year-old, adding she has shopped at auction for more than 20 years, along with picking up items for resale at a second-hand store.

"You need to know your retail prices and you need to know when to quit. You should always do your research before going in," she said, adding she always factors in auction fees before placing a bid.

While Schickerowski has embraced online auctions now dominating the industry since COVID-19 hit three years ago, she fondly recalls the in-person sales.

"I miss the live auctions. It was such a social event," said Schickerowski, who drops by for live viewings before an auction, but said, "It's not the same."

The auctioneer at Calgary's Graham Auctions said live viewing provides a substitute for the social aspect, but admits a lot has changed since the move online in 2017.

"The auction was also a chance to hang out with friends. We do miss that. That's why the viewing days are important. People can still come and visit each other," said Robb Leece, adding Graham Auctions hosts live viewing on Thursday and Friday before their weekly Saturday auction. He said all of the miscellaneous items for auction arrive at Graham under a ‘return to vendor’ status from a wholesale membership club.

"We have seen steady growth since we switched to online. The sellers are happy because we expose their product to a wider audience," said Leece.

Less than 10 per cent of the estimated 125 auction outlets in the province have live auctions, says the president of the Auctioneer’s Association of Alberta.

“COVID decimated the live auction,” said Shane Menzak, adding most auction houses have switched to the online timed format. (An online auction’s legitimacy can be verified by contacting the AAA at

The owner/operator of another Calgary auction market that provides a live webcast call during regular Wednesday auctions says it uses an auctioneer to draw in customers.

"We have people who get together with friends, drink wine and watch the sale on the big screen," said Rick Koftinoff of Rick's Auction Galleries, estimating more than half his buyers and sellers are seniors who are often providing items from estate sales or when downsizing their homes.

"The older people are selling and the younger people are getting a good deal,” said Koftinoff.

Koftinoff, who has been operating for 32 years, says items for auction have ranged from the unusual--a number of small wooden coffins from a movie set--to always popular items like china and coloured, hand-blown glass.

At Ward's Auctions in Edmonton, owner/operator Brad Ward says 'guy stuff' is the most popular type of item sold at the miscellaneous auctions held every five to six weeks.

"Tools and stuff for the man cave is big. Frilly stuff is not that popular. Good Canadian art is big," he said.

Ward says he’s seen somewhat surprising bids on numerous items over the years.

"Once we had some Pappy Van Winkle whiskey. The five bottles sold for $4,000 per bottle. You never know what you might have that is valuable," said Ward, stressing anyone who is downsizing should call an auction house first.

"Don't throw anything out or donate anything before you call us. You never know what is suitable for auction."

While the miscellaneous auctions are online only, Ward's Auctions does host a firearms auction every three months that is both live and online.

“We average about 600 firearms per sale, although (Bill) C-21 has stopped the sale of handguns,” he said.