The North Tonawanda History Museum will be moving this summer, leaving a downtown building it lost in a mortgage foreclosure.
In the meantime, the museum has spent the past year trying to reduce the size of its collection of more than 100,000 items to focus on the most North Tonawanda-centric things, acting executive director John Zellner Neal said Wednesday.
"There were - I don't want to disrespect them in any way - some tchotchke items donated over the years that were more 'sign-of-the-time' pieces than North Tonawanda-specific, that we were able to move on from," Zellner Neal said.
The anticipated new location, which Zellner Neal would not disclose because the purchase hasn't been signed yet, is less than one-third the size of the former G.C. Murphy department store at 54 Webster St.
Neal, the son of the late museum founder Donna Zellner Neal, admitted that the 40,000-square-foot, three-story building was too heavy a financial lift for the not-for-profit museum.
"The original agreement that was come to by our board of trustees, none of whom are still here, was an agreement that was probably over the organization's head," he said.
According to court papers, the museum never made a single mortgage payment after acquiring the building from Regent Properties for $675,000 in March 2009. Regent, owned by Vadim Gorobets, a California businessman, held the mortgage.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. approved Regent's foreclosure demand in 2016, but held off on scheduling an auction until arrangements were made to move the collection of local history artifacts.
Zellner Neal said the court has ordered the building vacated by June 30.
Alex M. Neurohr, attorney for Regent Properties, said that July 2 is the tentative date for Gorobets to auction the property.
"He'd like to see the property sold. He doesn't plan to take it back," Neurohr said.
Under the museum's by-laws, items being dropped from the collection had to be offered back to the original donors. If the donor didn't want to reclaim the items, they had to be offered to other local historical organizations before being sold or otherwise disposed of.
Some of the items are bulky, such as Wurlitzer organs.
Wurlitzer had a plant in North Tonawanda, but there were other factories around the country that produced Wurlitzer-branded goods. Zellner Neal said the museum wants to keep only genuine North Tonawanda-made Wurlitzers, which can be identified through markings on the instruments.
Zellner Neal said the museum's $5-a-bag used-book sales have become a key part of its finances. "It helps pay to keep the utilities on," he said.
The next book sale is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 14, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 15. Zellner Neal said the book sales will continue at the new museum.
The museum also has started a GoFundMe page to try to assist with moving expenses.
Zellner Neal said he's confident that with lower operating costs at its new location, the museum can thrive.
"We have a responsibility to the community to keep this afloat," Zellner Neal said.