LA’s Oldest Live Auction House Closes Doors, Goes Online

By Nic Cha Kim

COMMERCE, Calif.  – For a small business, the Abell Auction Company occupies an enormous space. CEO Don Schireson used to welcome up to 400 people into his 24,000-square-foot warehouse for live auctions, but since retail is deemed non-essential, he had to shut his doors to the public.

Now, he’s working to figure out how to make payroll.

“The Charles Eames chair that you see here, chair and ottoman, normally we’d sell on our weekly, regular auctions,” said Schireson. “Now we’re going to be offering it at an upcoming online auction only. The reason why we are changing to online is to be able to pay our 27 employees full-time.”

Schireson is cataloging his inventory with a skeleton crew and putting everything up to be auctioned online, a new way to conduct an old-fashioned business. A big believer in the live auction, he spent his career building a community where most of his customers purchase goods not for personal use, but to resell at their shops or swap meets.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put the live auction and antique world on hold. 

“We really enjoy having the people here, the camaraderie, the excitement of auctions and we firmly believe the best way auctions should be just like in the past,” said Schireson. “Unfortunately we can’t do that now so we do have to change.”

For a business that’s been around over 100 years, they’ve seen it all. They survived the 1918 H1N1 pandemic, the Great Depression and both World Wars. As a result, Schireson was better prepared to handle COVID-19 than most businesses, but he still had to apply for a loan.

“We applied for the PPP,” said Schireson.

An SBA loan, the Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans to small businesses to pay employees, rent, mortgage interest and utilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Schireson intends to keep all 27 of his full-time employees.

“So this is our luxury items featuring vintage handbags, clothing and jewelry,” said appraiser Alexandra Brown.

Brown is an appraiser and has been working for Don since she moved to Los Angeles three years ago. 

“I was a generalist appraiser when I started at Abells and I realized that jewelry was my passion the longer I was here,” said Brown. “And I just love how every piece of a finished piece of jewelry is a precious gem in itself and it adds to this complete beauty.”

It’s employees like Brown that keep Schireson motivated.

“People depend on us. Our buyers and sellers alike depend on us for merchandise so we’re happy to do this and this is going to extend worldwide, so I think this could be a positive going on,” said Schireson.

Get your bids ready. Sold!

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