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Auction hall proves Wise enterprise

March 19, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Each Thursday, hundreds of people pack into the former Colombo yogurt plant at the corner of Mitchell Street and Langdon Street to bid on everything from recliners to refrigerators.

Using a yogurt plant as an auction house might seem a bit unusual, but Harold Wise said it makes all the sense in the world.

Although the location is a bit off the beaten path, there's plenty of space, and what would be a vacant building becomes a facility with four different businesses that employ about 30 people.

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"It was an eyesore for the city, sitting here empty," said Wise, owner of Harold Wise's Auction Facility and Mini-Mall.

Last June, Wise left his former location, a building he still owns at 607 W. Washington St., and moved into the old Colombo plant, which has been vacant since the yogurt company halted production in the fall of 1994.

The Colombo building has 50,000 square feet of space, much more than the 10,000 square feet he previously had. There is enough parking on the 10-acre property for 200 cars - up from the 13 spaces he used to have.

"It's much more convenient here," said Wise, 44, a Clear Spring resident.

Even though much of the extra space is taken up by his tenants - Clara's Corner flea market, the Auction Cafe sandwich shop, and R.J. Summerville roofing - there is enough room for Wise to see a marked increase in business.

In the past, about 200 customers would attend his traditional Thursday auctions. Now more than 400 show up, some coming from as far away as Winchester, Va., and Washington, D.C., he said.

"I'm really pleased," Wise said.

He's not the only one.

"I'm really happy with the way things have turned out here," said Sandy Duffey, owner of the Auction Cafe.

Clara Schrock, owner of Clara's Corner, said she has room for 95 flea market vendors and is adding shelf space to accommodate a total of 120. She said the location has not been a problem for customers.

Getting there wasn't easy for Wise, who purchased the building last February for $300,000. Part of the struggle involved clearing several permitting hurdles, installing new restrooms and making the building accessible to those with disabilities.

He also had to make other upgrades to the building, spending some $100,000 on the improvements. One of the biggest expenses was a new heating and air-conditioning system, which Colombo did not need because its manufacturing equipment heated the building.

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