A rusty, industrial-size drain snake sold quickly at auction for $2, one sale among possibly thousands that marked the end of the 103-year-old Kehr Bros. Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.
The Watertown contractor was a victim of the recession and signed on with United Country Real Estate Auctions Appraisals, an auction and appraisal firm in Watertown, to sell off inventory Thursday.
“We couldn’t make a go of it anymore,” said Connie Dewitt, daughter of former owners Robert and Phyllis Kehr, both of whom died last year. Dewitt said she decided to sell the business when sales fell and the firm had trouble making payroll.
Dewitt and her husband, Richard, settled the firm’s accounts and sold its customer list to Kettle Moraine Heating and Air Conditioning LLC.
Stan Jones, owner of United Country, said he has been auctioning off more construction equipment than normal, although he could not say exactly how much. He said Thursday he expected the Kehr’s auction to take most of the day to sell off the miles of plumbing pipe and yards of sheet metal that a plumbing and heating subcontractor keeps in inventory.
David Gerlach, owner of Gerlach Companies Inc., Hartland, said his company also has ridden a large uptick in business as small construction firms fail.
“We sell broke businesses,” he said, “and there are a lot of broke businesses out there.”
Businesses that were weak going into the recession are now failing, and those that remained strong are scooping up used commercial and industrial equipment, Gerlach said.
At the Kehr auction, several dozen buyers were on hand to grab any bargains that captured their interests.
Early in the auction, nothing sold for more than $5, although Jones said he expected to capture higher bids for a portable shed and a large riding lawnmower.
Jones said the buyers likely were a mix of subcontractors looking to bolster their inventories, scrap-metal dealers interested in inventory and curious onlookers who might want to buy a small piece of a firm that represents a bit of Watertown’s history.
Dave Uttech, who owns two farms and a home near rural Lebanon, browsed the rows of inventory to see if anything fit his needs. He had his eye on some old tools but just wasn’t sure because there was so much else to look at.
“There’s a lot of good old stuff here,” Uttech said of the Jones auction.
Shalane Golish of Johnson Creek also rummaged through the rows of inventory.
“I try to make it to every auction I can to find something really affordable that I can use at home,” she said. “You can get stuff for a dollar or two here, and you never know what you’ll find.”
Dewitt, who knew what she was selling, was not at the auction, saying beforehand she did not care to see the last items of a family business disappear.