Honey Boo Boo shopped here: Small-town auction, cheap fun

But the biggest deal of all may be the cheap fun.

jkovac@macon.comDecember 7, 2012 

GORDON -- Across the street from a defunct Family Dollar, in what used to be a NAPA Auto Parts store, toothbrushes were on the auction block: $2 for a pack of five.

No, they weren’t used. They were brand-new, soft-bristle jobbies. Five of them, mind you, for two bucks.

But there were no takers, just silence.

Finally, one of the three dozen or so bidders on hand, a man sitting in back in a polo shirt and jeans with a Georgia Bulldogs cellphone clipped to his belt, muttered something.

“They don’t brush their teeth,” he said, ribbing his fellow auctiongoers.

They had gathered, as many of them do on Friday and Saturday nights, for an indoor parade of almost-expired Fig Newtons, overstocked Pine-Sol and no telling what else. The scene is equal parts flea market and bingo parlor. Think Sam’s Club without the Sam or the Club.

The T&T Auction as it is known -- a little-of-everything expo 16 miles east of Macon -- and others like it that dot the region, is a discounter’s delight.

Vendors hawk castoff food and merchandise that is either on its way out of date, irregular or for whatever reason no longer desirable to its makers. If vendors are lucky, auctiongoers snap it up.

“You don’t got to be poor,” Tom Cowan, who runs T&T, said during a break in the bidding on a recent night. “You just come to look for the deal.”

Of course, the biggest draw may be something more seductive: The hunt for the ever-elusive “steal.”

* * *

When it came time to peddle Aunt Jemima syrup -- “for the pancakes,” the helpful auctioneer noted -- no one perked up.

Cowan, hoisting one of the unlabeled bottles in hopes of enticing buyers, said, “I think these people are asleep. I didn’t bring no Geritol tonight.”

Then he ripped into boxes of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls and began tossing them to the crowd.

“Got to get you started, get some sugar in you,” Cowan said, flinging the treats. “Eat some of that, let’s get going.”

“Maybe you should’ve poured some of that maple syrup on them things,” auctioneer Joe Webb said before trying to set the price for two bottles of the about-to-be-out-of-date syrup.

“Five dollars? Four dollars?” Webb said. “Three dollars?”

When he went lower, four hands shot up and deals were struck.

Two bottles, 48 ounces in all, of high fructose for the low price of $2.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it,” a woman who bought some said.

* * *

Cowan, 53, is known on the auction circuit as “the grocery guy.”

Originally from Connecticut, as a teen he sold sheets, towels and comforters at flea markets in New York City. He moved south in the mid ’80s as a data-center worker for Georgia-Pacific.

Now he lives in Butts County. He’s a real estate agent. But about a year ago he saw how he could make money on the side buying manufacturer overruns and closeouts, sometimes by the pallet, and then selling the stuff at auction.

He has sold Tide detergent with Chinese labeling. He’s auctioned off NyQuil for $2 a bottle and moved 96-ounce jugs of Clorox, two for $3.

“But I found that, wow, people really like to buy food,” Cowan said. “People love snacks.”

On a Saturday night in October at T&T, Cowan was moving Fig Newtons for a buck a box. Not to mention nine bottles of Ken’s Sweet Vidalia Onion vinaigrette salad dressing for $3.50, eight bottles of lemon-scented Pine-Sol for $10 and a $34 waffle iron for $5.50.

Cowan leased the former Gordon auto-parts mart turned auction early this fall. The place had already made something of a name for itself.

In an episode of her hit cable show, reality-TV star Honey Boo Boo, who hails from nearby McIntyre, dropped in with her family.

They bought junk food.

* * *

The auction sits along Macon Road between a kaolin plant and Papermill Road. There’s a “God Bless America” sign in the front window next to an ad for a 1996 GMC pickup.

Folks travel from as far as Montezuma and McDonough for the weekend-night sell-a-thons, which are in essence soirees for the yard sale set.

Last month, a woman brought a birthday cake to share with everyone.

“After a while, some of these people become family,” Cowan said. “They come see me before they go to Kroger.”

Many are astute shoppers.

“Sometimes I feel bad for the sellers,” said customer Gary Andelin, a regular, who scored two bottles of aspirin for $2. “One night a guy tried to sell a coffee pot and it wouldn’t sell. Then he brings another coffee pot up. I’m going, ‘Why would you do that? I don’t care if it’s a different brand. It’s still a coffee pot.’”

When reels for garden hoses, regularly $50, sold for $17, Andelin wasn’t interested.

“That was a good price, and had I needed one, I probably would’ve bought one. But my daughter got one for nothing,” he said. “Found it in the garbage.”

* * *

Rich Day, a 30-year-old sixth-grade history and science teacher from McDonough, goes to auctions in search of things to sell on eBay.

Earlier this year in Griffin, he happened upon an auction and pulled in. Since then, he’s found everything from buck jars of peanut butter to a $2 box of random books, eight of which turned out to be collectibles. He sold them for $300 on the Internet.

“I almost look at it as a form of gambling,” Day said. “You get caught up in it.”

He met Cowan on his auction rounds and visited Cowan’s auction in Gordon in October. Day and his wife, Meghan, and their son bought snacks and bread. They mostly watched, passing on $2 plug-in air fresheners and gas cans, a coffee grinder, a blender and Liquid-Plumr Full Clog Destroyer.

Then a Schwinn bicycle rack, the kind you mount on back of a car and retails for about $50, went up for bid.

Day raised his hand.

“We don’t have bikes,” his wife said.

“That’s because you sold them,” he said.

His $5 bid went uncontested, but the seller wouldn’t take less than $20.

“I was just trying to steal it,” Day said.

* * *

T&T regulars Cathy Dyer of Milledgeville and her sister-in-law Melanie Allen of Toomsboro walked away one night with curtain rods fashioned from shotgun barrels.

A man overheard the two talking about how the rods would be perfect for their hunting cabin. The man bought them for $2 and gave them to the women.

“We went home and we told our husbands we paid $20 for them,” Dyer said. “They had a fit.”

Allen said, “You’ve just got to be into stuff like this. It’s not for everybody. ... When you can go to stores and buy stuff, why would you come and buy something that’s cheap or been used?”

That said, her sister-in-law couldn’t resist the $3 fire extinguishers in a can, which sell for $15 apiece in stores.

She bought five.

Never mind that they expired May 4, 2010.

* * *

When family-size packs of “silky smooth” Dove dark chocolate eggs started selling two for $2, auctioneer Webb amped up his pitch.

“If you eat ’em,” he said, “they’re gonna actually make you lose weight.”

Then he began plugging a stack of SnackWells cereal bars -- ones that were nine days from their best-if-eaten-by date -- three boxes for $5 or eight boxes for $8.

“These are good, good, good breakfast bars. They sure are,” Webb said.

Cowan added, “These are what your kids should be eating instead of the junk.”

By then, vendor Jim Hatcher had stepped outside to smoke. Hatcher peddles everything from cut-rate pressure washers to Pampers. He’s been at it 30 years.

“You can buy stuff here 70 to 80 percent cheaper than you can at a store,” he said. “It’s a game ... an entertainment to people. They got nothing else to do. And it’s cheap.”

And sometimes it is beyond that.

Hatcher recalled a guy who once put an antique of an item up for bid that, no matter what it’d sold for, its value will forever be, well, dropping.

A cow patty.

It went for $6.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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