The new owner of the Spencer’s Inc. property in Mount Airy is a familiar face in the “neighborhood,” longtime downtown businessman Gene Rees.
Rees, who said afterward he has no plans at present for the site, submitted high bids totaling $103,500 for two separate tracts containing eight buildings of the former infant-apparel manufacturing company. This transpired during a noontime auction witnessed by nearly 100 people.
As the crowd, including longtime Spencer’s owner Jim Crossingham, huddled inside the old shipping department of Spencer’s on Willow Street, the bidding grew intense at times.
It quickly became apparent that those with serious interest were there to make offers in person rather than using an online bidding system available for the sale of the total 10-acre site.
“There were no online bidders,” said Glen Brooks, a spokesman for the South Carolina firm commissioned to conduct the sale, Martin & Martin Auctioneers Inc.
An absolute auction was involved, meaning the property would go to the highest bidder regardless of amount.
The outcome for both tracts offered came down to Rees and Dean Bray III, a member of a local family which had bought other former industrial properties around town.
After describing the Spencer’s site and terms of the sale, auctioneer Richard Smith of Goldsboro began the bidding process with an opening figure of $100,000 for the smallest parcel. It contains about three-fourths of an acre fronting Willow Street and bordering West Oak and Market streets, with 36,308 square-feet of roof line and 6,300 square-feet of open parking area.
There were no takers at $100,000, which led to Smith reducing that by increments all the way down to $10,000, which sparked a $11,000 bid by local Realtor Mark Rogers.
Rees and Bray then joined in, jockeying back and forth to top each other’s bids while the auctioneer’s chant echoed throughout the room as he continually tried to coax out higher numbers. This ended with Rees’ winning bid of $18,500.
The auction of the second, and largest parcel, produced a similar scenario. Rees and Bray again went head to head to acquire about 9.5 acres fronting Willow Street and bordering Virginia and Franklin streets with 350,382 square-feet of roof line and 5.4 acres of property open for parking.
Bidding ceased with an $85,000 offer by Rees which Bray opted not to top.
After the auctioning of the second parcel, there were attempts by the sales crew to coax a $110,000 total for both parcels, which drew no takers and let stand the $103,500 submitted by Rees.
He received congratulatory handshakes from those in attendance, including Crossingham.
“This is good news for Mount Airy,” Burke Robertson, another downtown businessman, said of the acquisition by Rees. Thursday’s gathering also included other business people, lawyers, officials of Mount Airy Downtown Inc., economic-development leaders and curious members of the public.
For example, Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, said he came to see who the purchaser would be. His hope for the property was for “an end user who wants to put it to good economic use and not speculation.”
As opposed to an out-of-town entity with unknown intentions, Rees has a proven record of giving new life to abandoned or rundown properties, such as his recent development of shops along Market Street nearby. Rees also was involved with the construction of the Renfro Lofts condominiums adjacent to the Spencer’s buildings, and his F. Rees Clothing operation is one of the most-well known retail businesses on North Main Street.
In stressing Thursday that plans for his latest acquisition were uncertain, Rees also was unable to say how many properties he now owns in downtown Mount Airy, but added that he has 40 tenants.
Meanwhile, Brooks, the spokesman for the auctioneer firm, while being pleased with the turnout for the sale, was not as enthusiastic about the outcome.
“It’s not as much as I thought it would bring,” Brooks said of the $103,500 total for the property.
Crossingham also seemed disappointed with that figure, but was philosophical about the disposition of property that has been in his family for many years.
“The Lord’s will be done,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.