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Market House Grill sold at auction

February 07, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, Pa. - For $51,000, Ron Collins bought a downtown Martinsburg restaurant, but not the historic building that houses it.

The Market House Grill, which features Italian, Cajun and American cuisine, was sold at an absolute auction, after being on the real estate market for nearly two years without a bite.

The opening bid was $50,000, and Collins raised that to $51,000. The restaurant was his after auctioneer Don Hockman unsuccessfully tried to convince others in the crowd to outbid him.

Collins, an insurance agent, said he intends to keep the restaurant open, but wants to sell it.

"Money talks. It's on the table now," he said.

Inside the Market House - so named because it was an open-air market after it was built in 1847 - about two dozen people showed up for the auction, some of whom admitted being curious spectators. Although several people signed up as prospective bidders, only two bid.

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David Haines opened the bidding with what he said was his maximum - $50,000.

The highest bidder received only the restaurant's name, recipes and inventory, not the building itself. The building is owned by the City of Martinsburg, to whom Collins will pay $818 in monthly rent.

The fact that the real estate was not included in the sale probably lowered the interest in the sale, Hockman said.

At the auction, for several minutes it seemed as if Haines would walk away the winner.

Nobody would bid $60,000, despite Hockman's pleas. He scurried around the room, kneeling down in front of people, grabbing them, imploring them to bid.

"You need a restaurant like this," he nearly shouted while grabbing a man's arm.

"No, I don't," the man replied.

After several minutes, Collins bid $51,000.

Hockman continued his antics while trying to obtain a bid of $52,000, at one point rushing over to Martinsburg City Councilman Roger Lewis.

"Roger, you said 'yes.' You got your hand up," Hockman said. Lewis said he did not.

Several minutes later, after "going once" and "going twice" announcements, Hockman said the restaurant was sold to Collins.

Collins, 63, smiled and shook hands with those around him, before standing next to one of his new stools and putting his new coffee mug on top of his new bar.

Although he said he did not bid on a whim, Collins said he was not quite sure why he decided to buy the restaurant, of which he has been a frequent customer since it opened in February 1995.

Collins' wife was not with him.

"She doesn't know this yet," he said. "I guess I better tell her before it hits the papers."

Although he plans to sell the restaurant, Collins said that in the meantime he will keep it open. Employees have said they will stay with the restaurant after it changes hands, according to information in a packet handed out before the auction began.

Along with $51,000 for the restaurant, Collins must pay Hockman an auctioneer's fee of $5,100.

Many of the antiques used as decorations were included in the sale, and marked with red sticker dots to indicate as much. Items with red dots included lamps, air conditioners, a coat rack.

An old scythe had a dot stuck on its handle, a poster for the 1938 movie "Frontier Pony Express" starring Roy Rogers did not.

On another wall, a scarred Mountain State license plate did not have a dot, a framed front-page newspaper with the headline "Sniper Kills Kennedy, Johnson is President" did.

In the entryway, a spider plant had a dot on its pot, an old leather saddle next to it did not.

An apron-clad silver-colored knight, which is placed on the sidewalk outside the restaurant when it opens, had a dot on its chest plate.

Market House co-owner Amy Cart said she and her husband Thomas hope to move on with their lives, and focus on their 3-year-old son. Thomas Cart has some health problems, which she gave as the reason for selling. The couple does not plan to open another restaurant, she said.

Cart said she was pleased with the sale.

Collins has 30 days to close on the property and city officials must give him the go-ahead to open, Hockman said. If the sale should fall through for any reason, Haines, as the next high bidder, will become the restaurant's owner.

Adding breakfast and lunch, along with a side of catering, were Haines' plans. Currently the restaurant is open only for dinner.

"I think it's worth $50,000," Haines said, adding that he is interested in the fact that Collins wishes to sell. "I actually expected it to go a little higher."

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