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Auctions a burgeoning market for avid treasure hunters

Some of the unusual items up for bid at a Kinko's Auction on August 21, 2012, in Uniontown, Ohio. The Frankenstein masks sold for $169 for the pair. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Some of the unusual items up for bid at a Kinko's Auction on August 21, 2012, in Uniontown, Ohio. The Frankenstein masks sold for $169 for the pair. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Bidders yelling, “Yuuup!”

Someone telling a winner to “Go pay the lady.”

The term “picker” dropped more frequently into conversations.

The jargon is one way Kiko can tell his industry is feeling the effect of numerous reality TV shows that deal with dusty treasures hidden in America’s attics, basements, garages and storage units.

Where viewers once had to settle for a weekly episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” they can now get their fill daily with the likes of “American Pickers,” “Pawn Stars,” “Storage Wars,” “Auction Kings” and “Auction Hunters,” to name only a few.

For those not content to just watch, try going local. There are several auctions a week in the Akron-Canton, Ohio, area, for example.

“The TV shows have been good for business,” said Kiko, who works with his father and other family members at Canton-based Kiko Auctions.

You can probably thank the sour economy for the whole phenomenon.

People in need of cash are more willing to part with cherished items. That brings out the investors and collectors who want to add to their tangible assets at bargain-basement prices.

Meanwhile, websites like eBay and Craigslist and the popularity of flea markets make it easy for an average person to become a dealer, reselling their auction finds for some extra cash.

“It takes all types of buyers to make an auction work,” Kiko said. “You have got to have the dealers and you’ve got to have the (consumers).”

Examples of both were gathered at a Kiko auction in Lake Township, Ohio, last month, where more than 400 people arrived to pick through the belongings of Linda Hanks, whose husband, Tom, passed away six years ago.

Tom became ill in 1993, Linda explained, and his way of coping with his medical limitations was to attend auctions and tag sales. Over the years, he filled the house, garage and three storage sheds with his discoveries.

“It took this long for me to be able to let some of this go,” Linda said as she sat on her porch while visitors strolled the grounds of her property, looking at tools, collectibles, housewares, outdoor furniture and oddities of every theme.

Picking through boxes of mismatched goods, Kevin Ulicky of Parma, Ohio, represented perhaps the largest demographic at any auction: those who are curious but not in the market for anything specific.

“I’m retired, so I like to go to auctions and look around and watch,” he said. “I go a lot and don’t buy anything.”

He warned that auctions can be contagious, and the bidding can turn into a spirited competition.

“Sometimes you can get caught up in it and end up buying a box of junk for $20 and you wonder what you were thinking,” he said.

It took more than four hours to sell the Hanks’ belongings. The first couple of hours took place in front of the garage, where the more valuable items were offered, while the crowd - including experienced bidders who knew to bring their own lawn chairs - flashed their bidding cards.

The pickings were diverse: a traffic signal controller, leather military aviator’s helmet, pay phone, papier-mache masks, coins, walking canes, battery-operated tools, beaded purses and firearms.

Then the auction turned into a “walk and talk,” with the auctioneer leading a mobile crowd to the outbuildings and around rows of boxes and items laid out on the lawn.

Steve Kelleher patiently was waiting for some of the last items to be bid. The president of the Barberton Historical Society picked up a handful of Halloween-related decorations to use in the society’s Barber Haunt haunted house. He determined a rubber cadaver he won for $50 was easily worth $200 or more.

Kelleher, also a personal collector, has been to “hundreds” of auctions in his lifetime, he said. The 128-year-old Victorian house he shares with his wife, Chris, is filled with collectibles and antique furniture.

Like Ulicky, Kelleher admits to having bought things he really didn’t want.

“It’s a macho thing. Some people might as well be bidding with their middle finger,” Kelleher said.

He laughed recalling how he once bid $9,500 on an antique bookcase he and his wife agreed was worth $4,000.

He saw his wife’s horrified expression as he participated in the frenzied bidding, but said he was always confident the other bidder would stay in till the end. Sure enough, the other guy took the bookcase home for $10,000.

Kelleher said he’s much more disciplined now.

“When I leave an auction, I’m always happy,” he said. “I either got something for a good price, or I leave with all of my money. I win either way.”

Kevin Shahan of Kent, Ohio, had money to spend, but he wasn’t as interested in what the items were as what they could be.

At his artist’s studio in Garrettsville, Ohio, Shahan turns junk into sculpture with practical uses, like lamps and tables.

He and his mom, Sara Richards, were roaming the rows in search of chunks of metal that could be repurposed.

“Things I want nobody else wants,” Shahan said, “so I usually get a good deal.”

After the Hanks auction, Jack Kiko was already looking forward to his next event.

Kiko Auctions (( www.kikoauctions.com ) held 1,050 auctions in 2011. Most were for real estate, but many were chattel, the term used for auctioning individual items.

Family members operate a weekly auction house in Alliance (the County Auction barn), where sales are held every Friday at 5 p.m.

Others collect consignment items and host an auction two or three times a month at the Champion Event Center on Mississippi Street in North Canton.

A year ago, Jack Kiko launched a new division: a quarterly auction for musical instruments, held at the Buckeye Event Center in Dalton. That’s where Kiko also hosts a classic cars auction every spring and fall.

Kiko, 31, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Russ Kiko, who started the family auction business in 1945 in southern Stark County, Ohio. He’s not the only one. In addition to his father, John Kiko, there are five uncles, 24 cousins and Jack’s three brothers involved in the business.

“When (grandpa) started, he had a weekly auction house. Then it grew and he would have it a couple of times a week,” Jack Kiko said. “It just kept growing from there. Now we’re doing 100 auctions a month during the busy season.”

And there is no doubt those TV shows are bringing in the bidders, he added.

“People watch those shows and they say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a truck. I could do that.’” Kiko said.

Auction tips

∎Once you’ve picked an auction to attend, go early and look over the items. Make note of how high you are willing to bid before the auction starts so you can respond quickly as the bidding proceeds. There won’t be much time to discuss bids with a spouse or friend once the action is under way.

∎Before the auction starts, register to receive a bidding number. You’ll need to show identification and give your contact information.

∎When you’re ready to bid, hold up your number to get the auctioneer’s attention. Once he’s aware of your interest, a nod or shake of the head will let him know whether you are continuing to bid or dropping out. If you’re entering your first bid late in the game, you may need to be more aggressive in getting the auctioneer’s attention by shouting “Yo” or “Here.”

∎Don’t get caught up in the competition of bidding. Stick to your plan and don’t overpay for something just to deny it to another bidder.

∎It’s not uncommon for most people bidding to be dealers. Know that they are likely to stop bidding when the price reaches half of what they feel they can sell it for at retail.

∎The auctioneer might be speaking very fast. Listen for two numbers. Usually, the first number is the price that has been offered and the second number is what the auctioneer is asking for.

∎If the auctioneer announces you are the winner, it’s over. The sale is complete and you cannot return the item. After you are done bidding on all the items you are interested in, pay your total bill where you registered for your number.

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