Last updated: May 13. 2014 4:12PM - 1845 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

A banner announcing Thursday's auction of Spencer's Inc. buildings is attached earlier this year to the crosswalk separating company facilities on Willow Street.
A banner announcing Thursday's auction of Spencer's Inc. buildings is attached earlier this year to the crosswalk separating company facilities on Willow Street.
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The oldest of the buildings at the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial complex in downtown Mount Airy date to 1890, but Thursday’s scheduled auction of eight structures there will be decidedly high-tech.

While the traditional auctioneer, interested buyers and curious onlookers are expected to be part of the scene when the properties go on the block at noon, an unseen portion of the sales also will be taking place in the Cyber World.

As bidders flash an agreed-upon signal to the auctioneer to up a bid, someone miles away could be raising the stakes even higher through an online bidding feature of Thursday’s auction.

“They’ll be able to bid online while my auctioneer is live doing his cry,” said Glen Brooks, spokesman for a firm commissioned to conduct the sale, Martin & Martin Auctioneers Inc. of Pelzer, South Carolina.

“So the bidder will literally sit home in their pajamas,” Brooks added of those choosing to exercise that that option. “We offer online registration (of bidders) as well as on-site registration.”

Such a process accommodates would-be buyers who don’t wish to be known, and avoids them having to send a proxy to bid on their behalf. It also assists those who can’t travel to Mount Airy on the sale day, Brooks added.

The eight buildings to be sold total 386,690 square-feet spread over more than 10 acres. The absolute-auction provision means they will go to the highest bidder.

And although the physical side of the auction won’t occur until Thursday afternoon, online bidding already is under way via the Martin & Martin Auctioneers website.

“Typically we have bidding open about a week before the auction,” Brooks said, although the timetable for online bidding can vary from auction to auction.

The auction of the baby-blue Spencer’s buildings, which has been much-anticipated since being announced in early February, will be high-tech in another way. Brooks is hoping interested parties will be able to view the auction live online. Crews recently were at the site checking technical aspects related to the planned transmission, including ensuring there is sufficient bandwidth.

“So they’ll be able to watch the auction,” he said of that plan, calling it 99-percent sure. “At least they will be able to listen.”

Era To End

While there might be technical and other uncertainties surrounding the auction, one thing is for certain — Thursday’s sale will represent the end of an era as far as the longtime ownership of the Spencer’s property by members of the Crossingham family.

The blue buildings employed generations of local apparel workers in the manufacture of infant apparel until Spencer’s fell victim to overseas competition and production ceased in 2007.

Present owner Jim Crossingham, now in his 80s, attempted unsuccessfully to develop condominiums, retail shops and offices in the former industrial space.

That led to the decision to put the property up for auction, which also has prompted uncertainty about the future ownership — whether it will be local or out of town — and use of the property due to its proximity to the downtown area.

Crossingham and others hope that a savvy owner will develop a hotel, convention center or multi-use commercial complex at the site, but there are fears it will be bought by someone wanting to simply gut the buildings of materials.

The former Spencer’s buildings have been a big part of Mount Airy’s history, which were used in the tobacco industry before the textile operations took over. The buildings recently were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to information on the Martin & Martin Auctioneers website

Brooks says the properties will be auctioned in two tracts, one of about 9.5 acres which fronts Willow Street and borders Virginia and Franklin streets. It has 350,382 square feet of roof line and 5.4 acres of property open for parking.

The other tract of about three-fourths of an acre fronts Willow Street and borders West Oak and Market streets, with 36,308 square-feet of roof line and 6,300 square-feet of open parking area.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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