Prospective bidders mosey along lengthy tables and around wooden pallets stacked with whatnot that soon will be sold at auction. It's a scene that's repeated each Friday afternoon at Ballpark Auctions.
Since the business opened March 29, the weekly auctions have attracted a following that numbers about 200 people, three-quarters of them sufficiently curious or serious to register for a bidder's number.
Owner-auctioneer Joe Bertucci describes the business as a general merchandise auction, its mainstay overstock, clearance and returned goods that he purchases by the truckload from places such as Sears, Home Depot and HSN. He also welcomes consignments by individuals.
"Never in a millions years I thought I would be doing this," said Bertucci, a graduate of Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey.
He spent six years as a minor league baseball catcher in the Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros systems — thus the name of the auction business.
Added Bertucci, 40, also a graduate last November of the Florida Auctioneer Academy in Clermont: "Where else can you go to school and get licensed and basically get paid to run your mouth?"
From the former office-warehouse complex on the State Road 50 bypass in Brooksville, Bertucci said the biggest draw at the auctions is the tool section.
"We have a lot of tools, some home goods, pretty much anything you can think of," he said.
Think lawn care equipment, kitchen counter appliances, home decor, jewelry, cases of soft drinks, cartons of candy bars and chewing gum, boxes of one-cup coffee packets, some bearing expiration dates of 2014 or 2015.
"You can come here and buy a case of soda for $6 or $8, boxes of Kuerig coffee cups for $5 to $6 that in the store are $12. It's all overstock," the auctioneer said.
Doors open for viewing at 3 p.m. each Friday, with sales set for 5 p.m. and usually running until 10 p.m., clearing out an average of 650 lots.
Bertucci auctions mostly from atop a rolling ladder platform, the crowd ignoring the 50 or so chairs to follow on foot up and down aisles or into the tool room.
He will offer buyer's choice from a pile of merchandise, usually starting the bidding at $5. The highest bidder buys whatever number of items he desires from the designated pile.
Bertucci tests every item for operability, but points out: "Everything is sold as is; no guarantees."
The auctioneer announces "a crap pallet," explaining that the electric items thereon don't work.
"Those of you who can fix things, you do it," Bertucci tells his audience with a shrug.
Larry Campbell of Floral City, "a mechanic all my life," but now 62 and retired, planned just that, springing for three electric drills on a bid of $5 each. He fixes and resells them at a flea market, profiting maybe $15 per item.
Trish Shaw, 49, of Brooksville also opted for a nonworking item, a commercial-size Bunn coffee maker at $5 for her church. Another parishioner repaired it, making those who use the church kitchen happy.
Referring to the auction's website, Shaw said, "I like that they show things online so you know what they have beforehand."
In fact, Bertucci regularly tells the crowd to check his website as late as Friday morning because the last of his trucks bring in merchandise on Thursday evening.
Theresa Malloy, 42, of Brooksville, a buyer at the previous week's auction, chuckled as she reported having bid $15 for a vase. When she got home, she noticed the sticker on its base priced the item at $14.99.
"It was from a good store," she noted. "I was happy."
An admitted auction devotee, Bob Hudson, 80, drove up from his home in Hudson.
"It's a social event for me," he said with a grin. "You see the same faces. What's more interesting? A movie?"
He said Ballpark Auctions is one of the better auction houses he's been to.
"A lot of variety, a lot of new things," he said. "Most of them have used things."
Bertucci said other auctioneers cautioned him about launching his enterprise during the slow season, when the snowbirds have gone back North.
"I like starting at the slow time," he said. "It's better to work out all the kinks. If you can get people here in the slow time, you've got it made."
Bertucci said his air-conditioned building attracts a bigger crowd during hot weather, as does a food truck selling sandwiches, beverages and desserts.
So far, the priciest item he's sold has been a new European road-worthy scooter for $850, a consignment item by an individual who was hoping to get $400 for it. Consigners pay a 25 percent commission.
Bertucci's wife, Barbara, a full-time nurse, runs the auction office on Friday nights. Helping out are the couple's children: Patrick, 17; Gabriel, 16, and Deena, 13. Several ring men are also employed.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]