For 95 years, Ross Auction House has been located in downtown Colorado Springs.
Ross is one of a tiny number of near-centenarian businesses — Colorado Springs businesses that have been locally owned and operated for close to a century.
The good news is that Ross continues to prosper and serve the Colorado Springs community. The bad news is that the business is leaving downtown.
The last auction in Ross’ current space at 821 S. Sierra Madre St. took place July 2. The next one will be July 16 at 2430 S. Academy Blvd., near the corner of Academy and Astrozon boulevards.
Since 1921, only two families have owned and operated the business, which has had weekly auctions since Jack Ross founded the business. He died in 1957 and was succeeded by his daughter-in-law Marie, who retired in 1998 and sold to Bill and Paula Neal.
The Neals moved the business from its longtime location at 109 S. Sierra Madre St. to a larger building down the street at 821 S. Sierra Madre. The high-ceilinged industrial space had many advantages, but energy efficiency wasn’t among them.
“Look at this space,” said Bill Neal, gesturing at the 30-foot ceilings. “We’re spending a fortune on heating and cooling, and it’s still hot in the summer and cold in the winter — we might as well be in a tent.”
Their lease was almost up, the landlord wanted more money, and Bill and Paula planned to retire and hand over the business to their nephew, Thomas Langeland, who has worked with them since 2011.
The search for a new location began earlier this year, and it wasn’t an easy one.
“It was hard to find something that worked, for sure,” said real estate broker Amanda Miller Luciano, who represented Ross. “They needed a big space and had a pretty constrained budget. A lot of industrial space that would normally be available has been gobbled up by marijuana.”
Formerly occupied by Payless Furniture, Ross’ new 20,000-square-foot site has room for both a showroom and a warehouse. It’s an anchor store in a medium-sized shopping center that provides plenty of parking and good visibility.
“It’ll be a different atmosphere,” said Langeland, who will formally take charge of the business this month. “We’ll be able to display things much more effectively, for example, with a dining room set laid out as if it were in your home. We think that will be good for our customers and our consigners.”
A colorful history
When Jack Ross opened his doors in 1921, auctions had been a feature of American life since the 17th century.
Newspapers and printed fliers announced auctions of property, estates, livestock, sailing ships, seized contraband and anything portable and saleable. By matching buyers and sellers at a particular moment, auctioneers provided a service and established value.
It was a stable, profitable niche business. In an interview during the auction house’s salad days a few years ago, Bill Neal talked business.
“We run about 1,000 lots per week, and we sell everything you can imagine — from tools and Tupperware to the finest antiques,” he said.
What was the most expensive item that Ross ever sold?
“That would have been an 18th century Philadelphia Chippendale chair, with a Cadwalader provenance, and one of a very famous set that was made for that prominent family,” he said. “We sold it to the Keno twins (the New York antique dealers Leigh and Leslie) for $160,000.”
In 1953, Jack Ross auctioned off the Ouray Inn in Woodland Park. According to a Gazette-Telegraph article, 500 people attended the on-site auction. That may have been because the Inn wasn’t just a restaurant, but apparently featured an adjacent casino/bordello, to which guests at a certain prominent Colorado Springs hotel were transported by limo every summer evening.
Ross’ estate auctions also attracted buyers from near and far.
At one such auction during the late 1950s, the contents of a Cascade Avenue mansion were dispersed to new owners. Among the items sold was a suite of early 19th century painted furniture which, acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art nearly 50 years later, was traced back to the Ross sale by the museum’s curator. Newly restored, the suite will be featured in an upcoming exhibition, “Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House.”
Ross wasn’t the first auctioneer to sell the suite. When Philadelphia merchant William Waln built and furnished his grand house, his father, displeased with his son’s extravagance, wrote a tart message in chalk on the front door:
“To be sold at auction by the Sheriff.”
His prophecy was fulfilled a few years later.
A new era
The internet changed things. Valuable consignments such as the Cadwalader chair are likely to go elsewhere, and a more informed public means that fewer deals are available to buyers. Online, eBay provides a deep buyer network at a fraction of the cost of local auctions.
But Ross provides services unavailable online. As Baby Boomers downsize, it’s safer and easier to consign to Ross than to put together an estate or yard sale.
The auction house also can supply products and furniture to struggling Colorado towns, like Rocky Ford. Trucks come from the economically beleaguered town to resell used furniture and household goods to the residents.
Supervising the move to its new location Tuesday morning, Langeland directed a pickup towing a large open trailer to a parking area.
“They’re some of our best customers,” he said. “They have a store in Rocky Ford, and they buy a lot of furniture.”
The auction house move will bring the local business more attention, said Miller Luciano.
“Being downtown for so long was amazing, but they were kind of tucked away out of sight in the old place,” she said. “This should help them build their business and attract new customers.”