When Auctions America by RM first bought the 235 acres off Interstate 69 near Auburn, the first thing it did was begin pumping money into the place.
Over the past few years, grounds and buildings in what had once been known as the Kruse International Auction Park were made nicer, more comfortable and more spruced-up, said one Auctions America official.
And it’s been done to the tune of $2 million or more, according to the company.
There was a lot to be done to the property itself, said Keith Koscak, auction manager and car specialist with Auctions America. We spent a lot of time on improvements.
As the company prepares to host the annual Auburn Fall Collector Car Weekend beginning Wednesday at what is now known as the Auburn Auction Park, officials are betting that those improvements and a few new wrinkles added to festivities will pay off.
There will still be the same classic cars and vehicles that have rolled through the gates in the past, and there will still be the high bids and the memorabilia booths.
And, yes, there will be monster truck shows, similar to what was offered last year, and helicopter rides for those who want more to do than just the auction.
But this year the company will bring in a bevy of celebrities as attractions – such as hot rod gurus Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman as well as television star Jessi Combs – and also employ a powerful medium never used at the auction park before:
NBC Sports Network will be broadcasting from the auction park, and it won’t just be showing a blow-by-blow of people bidding on classic cars, Koscak said.
There will be features and interviews with car owners as teases before the vehicles are auctioned off.
It won’t be repetitive, the way some broadcasts of car shows tend to become, according to Koscak.
It’s a little bit different than you would normally see, he said. It breaks things up and gives it a personal touch.
The company’s debut sale in California last month was broadcast on NBC Sports Network, with ads for the Auburn festival running in various spots.
With those ads and lure of television, Koscak expects a significant increase in attendance, with possibly 20,000 more people coming to the auction compared with last year’s roughly 55,000 who attended. And that, many say, can only be a good thing for Auburn businesses.
A business boon
It’s about two weeks before every Labor Day weekend that Mike Littlejohn begins to notice out-of-towners trickling into Auburn.
The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, which is a celebration of the town’s automotive history, coincides with the fall auction.
The auction and festival, which includes a long-running parade, can bring roughly 100,000 people to the small town 20 miles north of Fort Wayne.
Those are a lot of potential customers for the 90 or so businesses in downtown Auburn, of which Littlejohn, who owns Carbaugh Jewelers, is one.
The week of the festival, you see a lot of people walk through town you don’t recognize, Littlejohn said.
He’s owned the store, which has been a part of the downtown business district since 1901, since 1997.
The only other shop that’s been in business continuously for longer is the nearby Auburn City Hardware store.
Both stores pique people’s interest due to their unique history and look, Littlejohn said.
We certainly get a lot of visitors who want to check things out, Littlejohn said.
And every now and then, he continued, jokingly, you might sell a piece of jewelry.
Littlejohn is also the president of the Downtown Auburn Business Association and noted that what he and some other businesses have experienced is that the festivities of Labor Day weekend continue to pay off.
He said there have been plenty of instances in which out-of-towners have come in long afterward, simply because they saw his jewelry shop while visiting for the festival or auction but had no time to come inside.
They made a point, though, to come back.
It happens quite often, Littlejohn said. If a business owner doesn’t necessarily think that the weekend brings them dollars, a later purchase might be in the offing.
While he’s heard some Auburn residents complain about the town being inundated with so many people during the week, Littlejohn has never heard a business owner complain, he said.
And as the festivities creep closer, people begin to flood the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce with calls about where to eat, what to see or lodging options.
It’s a real pick-me-up for everyone up here, said Terry Rayle, administrative assistant at the chamber. It’s a big difference for our community.
Rayle also added that the weekend has continued to be a boon in the area, even after Auctions America moved in to take the place of longtime auction park owner Dean Kruse.
Back on the map
Kruse International held its first Labor Day auction in 1971.
Dean Kruse has always been a part of that company. His son, Mitchell, bought it in 1986 and Dean bought it in 2003.
Seven years later, though, Kruse’s empire fell when he had his auction license revoked and battled lawsuits and complaints about consignors never being paid.
The embattled businessman made numerous court appearances and was the focus of a string of headlines and newscasts in the media.
Eventually, he had to sell his auction park, and that’s when Auctions America came to Auburn.
Since Kruse’s fall from business grace, Auctions America has made it a point each year to make Auburn widely known in the classic car auction world.
In our ongoing effort to put Auburn back on the map as the classic car capital of America, we’ve continued to build our flagship event, said Auctions America Donnie Gould in a statement about the upcoming auction.
But in many ways, some company officials say it might already be there.
If anything, when we took it over, we kind of put it back on the map, just because some of the problems it had gone through, Koscak said.
That made the event popular again from the get go, he added.
Still, Koscak said, there’s always room to grow. Yes, there is live television this year, but there’s also an extra memorabilia sale Wednesday at the park, where those who come can also preview some of the cars.
Some of the tents at the auction are bigger than in previous years, Koscak said, and the company expects roughly 1,200 cars to be in the auction.
Officials also expect more people. Koscak said he thinks attendance could hit 75,000 this year.
Meaning all the work put into the park, the money put into repairs and new paint and new grounds, will have paid off.