Merry-Go-Round takes last ride Auction: More than 1,000 people came in search of treasures from a bankrupt retailer.

June 02, 1996|By LIZ ATWOOD | LIZ ATWOOD,SUN STAFF

It may not have been as frenzied as the Jackie O auction at Sotheby's in April, but yesterday's public sale of assets from the defunct Merry-Go-Round Enterprises certainly wasn't a typical warehouse sale in Harford County.

More than 1,000 bidders came to 3300 Fashion Way in Joppa to vie for items ranging from ironing boards and file cabinets to a 1972 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and powder blue suit worn by singer Elton John. And like the auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' belongings, this sale marked the end of an era.

"We feel a little bit sad in a way because this was such a Baltimore company," said Holly Pearl of Owings Mills, who came to the auction to find plants and prints to decorate her new home. She walked off with a 5-foot ficus tree.

Laid out on tables, hanging from racks and crammed into boxes were the treasures of Merry-Go-Round, the retail company founded in 1968 by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the pony-tailed Baltimore rebel portrayed by Mickey Rourke in Barry Levinson's film, "Diner."

At its peak in the 1980s, the company included 1,500 stores and employed 14,000 people. But in February, Merry-Go-Round filed for bankruptcy and by April all of the stores had closed.

The thousands of items sold yesterday were from Merry-Go-Round stores, offices and corporate condominiums, and from Weinglass' chain of Boogie's Diners. Goods included leather pants and jackets, stereo equipment, sofas, $1,500 Tony Lama boots, Harley-Davidson jewelry and 150 autographed caps. By 5 p.m., the auction had raised $300,000, organizers said.

While some of the buyers who streamed into the auction may have reflected on the loss of a company and the jobs it provided, the atmosphere was more akin to a festival than a funeral. Vendors sold hot dogs and lemonade, and children romped across the grass.

Jennifer Pearsall of Mount Washington came with a friend who wanted to buy a computer, and while he competed with other bidders in the headquarters' lobby, she lounged in the grass reading "King Lear." "This was the best option -- being outside," she said.

Although a few buyers walked away with bargains, prices generally were high, which accounted for the smiles on the faces of officials from Atlantic Auctions Inc. who presided over the sale.

One of the most expensive items went to Jim Hibler, a Dundalk longshoreman who came to buy a 1950s-era red Mobilgas pump for his living room and instead walked off with the Harley for $7,600.

"It's just a novelty," Hibler said.

$700 gorilla

Before the bidding began, auction officials had explained that the item listed in the sale catalog as a 1972 Harley was really an assemblage of motorcycle parts that did not run and had no owner's title. Hibler, however, was undeterred and said he hopes to be able to fix the motorcycle so that it will run.

Tony Boyle of Annapolis shook his head in dismay as he bid on a 5-foot animated model of King Kong. Boyle was goaded by a friend into paying $700 for the beast, which he said would become a prop in a Hollywood theme restaurant he is opening in September.

Although Boyle said he intended to bid no higher than $500 for the gorilla, he decided to pay more because he had spent less than expected on other items, including a Hollywood sign and a replica of a Michael Jackson jacket.

"The prices were pretty much what I thought they'd be," he said.

Celebrity items

Television anchorman Rod Daniels indulged his passion for Jimi Hendrix, paying $2,000 for a signed copy of the guitarist's "Are You Experienced?" album and $175 for a poster.

"I've been a Hendrix fan since high school," Daniels said. He said he has a number of Hendrix items hanging in his living room. "This will add to the museum," he said.

Ray Nichols, chairman of Atlan- tic Auctions, said the most surprising aspect of the auction was that prices didn't diminish significantly as the day wore on.

However, he said, "We knew it was going to be an outstanding sale from the calls we received. We had enough bidders and enough buyers that the prices didn't slacken."

Although collectibles such as the Harley-Davidson motorcycle generated the most feverish bidding, many buyers were more interested in finding bargains on office equipment than taking home pieces of history.

They left the large white tent where the collectibles were being sold and crowded into the lobby of Merry-Go-Round headquarters to bid on computers, fax machines and copiers. A few left once it was clear that prices on even outdated computers started at $200.

Gary Thomas of Joppatowne considered himself lucky to snag a Compaq 486 computer for $400. "It was the first one I bid on," said Thomas, a postal worker, who brought his brother, Wayne, to help him choose among the dozens offered for sale.

No limit for some

Although Thomas came to the auction intending to spend no more than $400, some, including Susan and Bob Friedlander of Owings Mills, had no spending limit in mind.

Susan Friedlander bid unsuccessfully on a signed picture of the band Cream and a Hendrix poster, but thrust her fist in the air in victory after she nabbed a signed picture of Pink Floyd for $650.

And she wasn't done. She also had her eyes on a pair of boots and several samples of cartoon cell art.

"We're just winging it," her husband said.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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