Sold On, Dixon's

The weekly auction in Crumpton bulges with anitques and other irresistible items

Eastern Shore

September 12, 2004|By Jody Jaffe and John Muncie | Jody Jaffe and John Muncie,Special to the Sun

We went to Dixon's Furniture Auction on the Eastern Shore looking for a garden bench. Eight hours, $298, four lime snowballs and one sunburn later, we left with:

Two garden benches ($20)

Three stained-glass windows ($230)

Two nightstands ($40)

One wrought iron table ($5)

Two blue plates (free)

One glass cream and sugar set (free)

Half a roasted chicken ($3)

If we'd found a partridge in a pear tree, we probably would have bought that, too.

That's the way it is at Dixon's, the weekly junk / furniture / whatever auction that dealers say is the best on the East Coast. You walk in looking for something and walk out carrying something times 10. And that's if you're restrained.

Every Wednesday -- rain, snow or heat -- anywhere between 800 to 1,500 people swarm to Crumpton, a blip on the Eastern Shore so small that the downtown doesn't have a stoplight or a store. They're heading to Dixon's, most of them dealers from up and down the East Coast, most of them buying items to sell at their antiques stores, flea market booths or on eBay.

"It takes about two seconds to figure out who's an end user and who's a dealer," said Vic Kornbluth, a 50-year-old self-described "junk man" from Wilmington, Del. We found him carrying a stuffed alligator he'd just bought for $150. Even with the tip of its tail missing, Kornbluth figures the gator will go for $200 to $250 on eBay. "Taxidermy is big."

Buying at Dixon's and selling on eBay is Kornbluth's full-time job now. He's been at it for the past four years.

"I've had every job in the state of Delaware. I don't like routine and I needed not to have a boss and not to have any employees. EBay is not my business. EBay is my calling in life."

His best Dixon's deal so far: an old Martin ukulele, cracked and duct-taped, that he bought for $30 and sold for $450.

Dixon's is a fever-pitched three-ring circus of simultaneous auctions spread over 40 acres where $10 million worth of stuff is sold every year. Things go fast. Every 12 seconds or so, an auctioneer shouts out "Money! Money! Money!" and moves on to the next item.

Everyone's looking for the Big Catch, like the decayed set of Confederate flags bought for $250 and later sold for six figures. But there are plenty of little and medium catches to keep you from going away empty-handed. The allure of the deal is what's at the heart of Dixon's.

Kornbluth agreed. "It's addictive," he said.

We heard several versions of that word at Crumpton.

"I'm addicted," said Debbie Bastable, a 48-year-old commercial real estate broker who's been coming to Crumpton several times a month for the past 14 years. But Bastable doesn't sell what she buys. She just collects and collects and collects.

She says she's already filled seven storage units with things she's bought at Crumpton. And that was after she'd furnished her 7,000-square-foot house in Great Falls, Va., with Crumpton finds. "Down to the flatware," she said.

During the three minutes we stood next to Bastable, she added a $130 saxophone ("my son plays") and a $50 chain-stitched rug to her collection.

"That's the deal of the day!" she said, squeezing her arms against her sides and bouncing on her toes like a 6-year-old who just got picked first for the dodgeball team. Then she walked over to the rug and ran her fingers over it. In what might be the understatement of the day, she said, "I love this place."

Upper Shore tour

Dixon's is easy to love. Not only is it a weekly Renaissance fair of antiques shopping, it's also tucked in a pretty, bucolic corner of the Eastern Shore. Crumpton is only about eight miles upstream on the Chester River from Chestertown, that center of quaintness and renovated Victorian homes on the Shore's northwest side.

We made a two-day trip of it this summer, driving across the Bay Bridge on a Tuesday morning, heading north on Route 18 to Centreville then north again on Route 213 to Chestertown where we stopped for lunch and a stroll.

Our main destination that day was Rock Hall, a small 18th-century town 13 miles from Chestertown that once was a center for the bay's oyster and crab industry and now survives more on tourism, history and marinas. We spent the afternoon exploring the town, the two-room Waterman's Museum -- complete with a re-created floating shanty -- at the Haven Harbor Marina, and then the nearby 2,285-acre Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is an island a few miles south of Rock Hall and accessible by a short bridge from the mainland. It sits between the wide mouth of the Chester and the open bay. From points along its shore you can see the Bay Bridge off on the southern horizon.

We walked down a few of the well-groomed trails that wind through the refuge's woods, marshlands and fields. But be warned, it can be bug city -- and they bite. We ended up waving our arms like windmills to keep the deerflies away.

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