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100+ Things: Springville Auction

Officially, it's called the Gentner Commission Market. Affectionately, it's known as the Springville Auction.

But no title could begin to do justice to this year-round Wednesday tradition.

At the Springville Auction, you could imagine yourself back in 1939, when the market was organized by farmers Raymond Gentner and Norbert Kessler. Heck, you could imagine yourself back in 1039. What happens on this hillside on Main Street in Springville is rare and timeless.

Get there by around 10 a.m., and you'll see piles of junk, known as lots, strewn around the bottom of the hill. Forgive me for calling it junk. The New York Times did, too, on a pilgrimage here in 2006. "There is no other way to put it," the Times declared.

The Springville Auction is not only an opportunity to find oddities and practical items at a great price, but to see family and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

A single lot could contain anything. Things we saw on a recent Wednesday included beat-up bicycles, prehistoric tools, toys, small electrics, LPs, embroidery hoops, chairs, shutters, car parts, exercise equipment, who knows what all. The items may or may not be related.

"You never know what you'll find," said auctioneer and general manager Don Benz. "Every week it's something different."

[PHOTO GALLERY: The Springville Auction]

The sun beat down as auctioneer and part-owner Damon Gentner moved, methodically, from lot-to-lot. A small crowd of mostly men — farmers, cowboys, bargain hunters, the Amish — followed him intently.

Owner and auctioneer Damon Gentner methodically goes through stacks of items and auctions them off. He and his mother Shirley own the business. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"One dollar. Do I hear — " The patter was so dignified and the drama so taut that when the winning bid was declared, it was a shock. "Sold, sir, for $2."

A subsequent lot, made up of Christmas oddments, went for $3.

"Thank you, my brother," Gentner declaimed.

It's common, I learned, for folks to buy lots and sell the items individually "up the hill." The hill is where the flea market is.

That was the strategy of Dave Giumento, of Rochester. He let me peek into a huge box of kitchen items he had scored for $2. The contents looked better separately than together. There were Farberware saucepans, vintage aluminum cookie sheets, Pyrex —

"And look, a bottle of water," Giumento laughed. "That's 5 cents right there."

Dan Schmitt purchases a painting of The Last Supper. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

He was going to show the lot to his wife, to see if there was anything she needed. Everything else would go up the hill. He and a friend hefted the box and hauled it away, stumbling over a giant Tonka truck.

I went up the hill to shop around.

Some stands were specialized. One man sold hot sauces. Another vendor sold antique cookware. One of the bigger booths offered bargains on shoes, new and in boxes.

But many vendors simply sold whatever.

A washboard. A rock tumbler. A bear that holds toilet paper. (Darn, too pricey.)

Superhero action figures. Old car magazines and 1912 issues of the Naples News (from Naples, N.Y.). Stop signs. A box of odd teacups, marked: "Orphans."

Action figures of Wolverine from "X-Men," left, and Iron Man perch at the auction. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

New packs of socks and underwear. Monopoly. Twister. Kerplunk. Off-brand Sharpies. Smart-mouthed T-shirts. Vinyl records by Charlie Daniels, Isaac Stern and Air Supply.

I ran into a priest friend, the Rev. Fred Voorhes. He had stopped by the shoe stand for Crocs to wear at the Y. I also met a gentleman named Harry Wicher who has been coming here faithfully since 1985. He had snagged two Weed Whackers, for $1 each.

"I tell my wife, no doctor appointments on Wednesday," said Wicher, of Hamburg. "This is my day."

The day passed as it had for eons. I heard the wail of a harmonica, the patter of the distant auctioneer. An evangelical church group had a guitar and was singing "Amazing Grace." The hay auction, scheduled for noon, had taken place. Back at the bottom of the hill, Benz was auctioning flats of petunias and snapdragons.

Folks were gathering in the barn for the small animal auction. The large animal auction would follow. Curious, I stepped inside. From the hill, you could see a steer with horns that looked to be a yard long. Would he be auctioned?

Dean O’Brien, of Arkport, and Alexandra Federov check out the birds. Federov is looking to buy Peking ducks and a dairy cow. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Alas, I never found out. I'm a city girl, and my heart went out to the panicked chickens, to a flapping, struggling goose. Those poor bunnies! I escaped to the farmers' market.

And wisely so. It was getting late and vendors were hawking deals. A rooster added his voice, crowing from a tree. I bought peaches, tomatoes, a red cabbage and a green cabbage. For $3.50, I got a half-pint of Amish black raspberry jam.

I'd been here once before. It was about 20 years ago, but I remembered some smoked cheddar I had loved. Sure enough, there was the cheese stand, right where I (sort of) recalled. And there was the smoked cheddar.

I wanted a lasting memento of this crazy day. I headed back to the hill.

"How late are you staying?" I heard one vendor ask another.

"As long as ... you know, as long as it hurts."

A box of tea cups is labeled "orphans." (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

One young woman, Kerry Ward, of Delevan, was here for the first time and had just made her first purchase. It was a butterfly pendant that opened up to reveal a watch.

"They said it worked," she said. "For $1, I'll take a chance."

Where was my treasure? Finally, on a table marked "Everything $1," I saw four vintage, gold-rimmed Florida souvenir shot glasses — or jiggers, as the faded box put it.

"Quarter each," the seller pointed out. Sold.

And let me tell you, back home, I found one of these jiggers on eBay, priced at $14. Hmm. I have four. And in their original box.

I just might flip them up the hill.

On the hill is a busy flea market. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)


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