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Owners bid Beaudoin farewell at auction

Dustin Block
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Larry Schwartz watched sadly Wednesday as contractors picked through the equipment he worked with for 18 years.

Schwartz, a former operator with Brookfield-based William Beaudoin and Sons Inc., attended the court-ordered auction like a mourner at a funeral. He wasn’t there to bid on the graters, steel drum rollers and pavers up for sale. Schwartz was saying goodbye.

“I feel very, very bad,” he said.

Across the way, dozens of contractors climbed into the cabs of trucks and checked out diesel engines, pulling out cell phones to call business partners. The Beaudoin name stenciled on the vehicles’ doors soon will be replaced with the names of other companies.

“It’s like going to a rummage sale,” said Mark Cusatis, owner of Cusatis Construction Co. Inc., Germantown.

“Everyone’s here looking for a deal.”

The auction drew a large crowd, turning Beaudoin’s demise into something of a social event. At least 272 people registered to bid, including 30 people online. People from as far away as Texas, Mexico and Australia were following the sale through the Proxibid Web site.

Gerlach Companies Inc., Hartland, organized the auction. The company converted Beaudoin’s garage into a bidding hall with a large screen displaying one at a time the 511 lots up for sale. About 250 people sat on folding chairs, bidding on everything from a box of hammers to a 2002 four-door Lexus.

Don Beaudoin, the past president of Beaudoin and Sons, sat in the front row of the auction with his daughter, President Lynn Hackett. Lot by lot, their company was sold.

Auctioneer Dave Gerlach started the sale with brief condolences for the company, which filed for receivership in January. Beaudoin held the auction to pay off creditors.

“Nobody is happy on a day like this,” Gerlach told the crowd.

Gerlach blamed Beaudoin’s decline on liberal lending policies that crashed the economy.

“You can’t blame the company,” he said. “You’ve got to blame the government.”

The first lot was a collection of hand tools that sold for $30, and a series of smaller items were up for sale during the auction’s first two hours. By noon, the Lexus sold for $9,000, plus the 10 percent auctioneer’s fee.

Cusatis said he was at the auction looking at a few pieces of equipment but planned to buy only if he got a steal. Otherwise, it’s often a better investment to buy new, he said.

“With this many people, nobody’s getting a deal today,” Cusatis said. “Everyone will bid the prices high.”

Schwartz, wearing a Beaudoin baseball cap, was left to muse with another former Beaudoin employee, Leonard Zimmer, about what went wrong. Both said the company never replaced the experience it lost when longtime employees started retiring in the mid-1990s.

Schwartz shook his head at blaming the economy for Beaudoin’s failure.

“You’ve gotta have foremen,” he said. “You need guys who push the guys.”

It’s a long fall for a company that, not long ago, was one of the most active asphalt and concrete companies in southeastern Wisconsin, Schwartz said.

“With the people we had here, it’s very sad,” he said. “This was a great company.”

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