Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekly auctions enliven Hillsdale County Fairgrounds

Ken Frecker of Ken Frecker Auctioneers, Inc. prepares for a day of selling. He grabs his white Stetson hat, a walking cane and his portable speaker system with the microphone duct-taped to the strap. With everything in hand, it's 9 a.m. and time to begin selling. 
Frecker and several others are the latest in a long line of auctioneers marshaling the Hillsdale Historic Auction. For the past 102 years customers have attended the auction and flea market at the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds to find discounted goods ranging from handguns and bread to glowing earrings and portraits of Jesus. 
Richard Cytacki, who graduated from auctioneer school in 2000, has been working the auction for the past six years.
"He's kind of a cocky soul, thinks he's good at everything," Frecker said.
Cytacki laughs, and prepares to give a tour of the grounds on the slowest day of the year. 
The auction has six parts to it. The flea market is in the barn, along with the office, livestock cage, food court and discount groceries. The poultry, from pheasants to roosters, ducks and rabbits, is kept in another barn. Over 3,000 bales of hay are sold near the parking lot. Next to the flea market is the auction area, and where most of the crowd gathers for bidding. 
Cytacki said cattle, pigs and goats are sold during the large animal sale at 1 p.m. Animals are typically registered until the start of the large animal sale, but winter has kept livestock at a low. He said the livestock is numbered with a yellow sticker and weighed on its way out to the pen — except for goats, which are sold by the head. Today it's light, only a man with a small kid under his right arm comes for a yellow tag.
Cytacki said the poultry barn is usually full, but again, winter has kept the numbers down. Roosters and rabbits, sold by the cage, fill only a quarter of a wall, but still draw a sizable crowd. 
Another big seller, Cytacki explains, is hay. Hay from Hillsdale County, Indiana and Ohio are sold to farmers looking for extra winter feed. Besides that, the actual auction section usually extends much farther, spilling over into four long rows instead of two short ones. 
"It's not unusual in the summer time to sell for six hours," Cytacki said.  
Today, Frecker sells for about two. For those two hours he pokes the merchandise with his cane and starts the bidding at a low price. Anything can be up for auction — from a pool table to piles of firewood. 
"Okay you're buying a bucket of boards there, and brackets, so give a dollar bill," Frecker says. "Little shelves there, dollar-bill-one-dollar." 
Jackie Kenkel, whose son is now 60, grew up on 6 West College St. and has been coming to the Hillsdale Auction since she was four. She said she spends her time with her friends and often comes Friday night to scout for potential purchases. Kenkel said she loves to get acquainted with people at the auction.
"If they don't talk to me I talk to them," she said. 
"We've been coming here for years and years and years," Kenkel said. "When I was a child I said, 'I am never coming here, I hate this place.' Now, I can't stay away."  
Frecker said the barn, where the flea market sells its wares, contains 40 booths. Each booth is sold by its number. Some vendors, like six-year veteran Cindy, have multiple booths rolled into one. 
Cindy, who said she cannot release her last name, said she visits her friends and fellow vendors between auctions and sales. Cindy knows each person selling in the flea market, down to Herminia Torres, who just began selling polyester blankets at the end of the aisle. She said in the summer the Amish have a strong presence with baked goods, and senior citizens flood the barn. 
"We enjoy this," Cindy said, pointing to attendees. "This is my fun, my relaxation."

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