Goodwill’s auction site maximizes donations

TRAVERSE CITY – Down a hallway, behind office cubicles at Traverse City's Goodwill, is a doorway leading to a small back room containing treasures not likely to ever line the shelves of the retail shop next door.

Far from keeping these items from bargain-shopping customers, Goodwill staffers use this room as a staging area for the donated antique dishes, vintage toys, gold jewelry and collectibles they expect will sell even better through the online auction site

Similar to eBay, the site offers up items for bid, with all proceeds benefiting Goodwill programs that aid residents throughout northern Michigan. Close to $200,000 is expected to come in this year from the sale of these auction items, said Robert Randall, director of retail operations, and those proceeds will stay in northern Michigan.

"It just maximizes the donations that come in. That's why we have the program," Randall said.

More than 100 Goodwill stores across the country raise funds through Revenues from these auction sales fund Goodwill's education, training and job placement programs for people with disabilities and other barriers.

The online auction site run through the Traverse City office has been a fund-generator for northern Michigan Goodwill stores for the past five years, said Ruth Blick, director of marketing for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.

"We take the unique, antique and bizarre," said Blick of the more than 500 local items each month that are placed on the site. All are donations that come through Goodwill doors.

Inventory changes fairly quickly – about every 10 days – because each item is listed between seven and eight days. On a recent afternoon, either up for auction or about to be listed were a 20-year-old "See 'N' Say" toy, a tin John Deere lunch box, sterling silver bowls, real fur and leather coats, wooden snowshoes, a diamond tennis bracelet and a vintage decorative photo album, among countless other items.

Mid-auction, a framed Roman coin, "circa 240 AD to 410 AD," was at $52 while a mint green decorative art glass pitcher was at $40.

Recently two watercolor paintings by John Whorf went on the auction block, generating a flurry of bids. Whorf is considered one of the finest American watercolorists from the early 20th century, creating realistic depictions of urban and rural imagery.

The paintings were inspected by a professional art historian who felt they are worthy of consideration for a gallery or for collectors of fine art, Blick said.

"You just don't know what's going to show up," Randall said.

Goodwill staffers manning the donation drop-off areas have gotten good at deciphering what may sell well online. If that's the case, they deposit those things in the back room, where supervisor Paula Hanna and shop associate Deb Whilden take stock and eventually place items online.

Auction sales remain brisk even in, or perhaps because of, the down economy, Whilden said.

"We're still going strong. I think it's picked up since Christmas…more people are buying used and collecting," she said. "Everyone is a collector. Us selling online is wonderful because we're reaching all these collectors."

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