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Auctioneer is selling Patty and Friends Antique Mall

ST. PETERSBURG

As the auction business heats up in part because of an influx of consignors who have learned to be pickers from reality TV, Blake Kennedy is selling the 33-year-old Patty and Friends Antique Mall to focus more on Kennedy Brothers Auctions.

The auction company is expanding, in fact. Kennedy's brother, Brett, recently bought 55-year-old Picture Framing by Volpe, which was a mainstay on Central Avenue for decades.

"It lends itself to the estate business and the art we sell though our auction business," Brett Kennedy said. "We wanted to add another element to what we already do."

Kennedy Framing, behind the Kennedy Brothers auction house at 5510 Haines Road N, is open to the public as well.

Inventory from estates and consignors is so high these days that there are two auctions there each month with Blake Kennedy as the fast-selling and humorous auctioneer. He has played that role at commercial auctions and charity events across the country for 16 years but started holding his own auctions only three years ago.

"It's kind of where my passion is and it has been for a long time," Blake Kennedy said. "I think the antique business is a great business and I'm not leaving it. I'm leaving that retail end of it. It was a hard decision to say I'm going to put Patty and Friends up for sale. But I have four kids. I work seven days a week, and they're growing up fast."

When the 46-year-old twins' mother, Patty McBane, opened the business at 1241 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in 1980, it was a cutting-edge concept to put multiple antique dealers under one roof. She had seen a so-called antique mall in Nashville and decided to try it in Florida.

Shortly after opening, she explained the unheard-of concept in a Times article. Twenty-seven dealers paid her rent on their space in the store, but they didn't need to be there because she handled the sales, along with taxes, insurance and advertising.

The novel idea stuck.

Today an average of 70 dealers populate Patty and Friends on month-to-month contracts. They own the merchandise, so it's not included in the Kennedys' sale. The two buildings totaling 5,200 square feet have an asking price of $485,000.

"My heart is to try to find somebody who wants to maintain it as an antique mall," said Blake Kennedy, who took the business over from his mom 16 years ago. "The advantage of Patty and Friends is the first day someone buys it they are making money by getting rent and 10 percent of all sales."

He says the store has maintained steady sales, even during the recession, but the antique market in general has taken some hits from the proliferation of online auction sites like eBay.

"Once-scarce items now flood the online auction sites, tipping the scales of supply and demand and diluting values," Kiplinger's, the personal finance publication, reported last year. "Throw in the impact of the economic downturn — during which some folks desperately scoured their attics and basements in search of anything to sell that could help them pay their bills — and the result is a perfect storm: a decline in prices for most collectibles and antiques."

Some things do sell better at an auction than in a retail setting, Kennedy said. A piece of furniture, for example, may go for more at a store; collectibles or rarer items are the stuff of bidding wars.

Among the higher-priced items he recently auctioned were a French porcelain doll that went for $3,000 and a set of iron gates from a house on Park Street for $2,400. Other hot items are midcentury furniture. (Yes, this is an exception to his statement about furniture selling better in a store.)

"Midcentury is hot, hot, hot. That was the stuff we used to kick to the side 10 years ago," Kennedy said. "Now it's the Victorian stuff we can't give away. I still like Victorian, but the decorators are the ones who set the market. They like midcentury."

His auctions average 250 to 300 items, or lots. Between 100 and 180 people come see and buy as about 100 items an hour go to the highest bidder.

At a special New Year's auction, Kennedy called items for seven hours straight.

"It's a marathon and I am exhausted at the end, but that's what I get paid to do," he said.

The auctioneers keep 25 percent of the sale price of items brought in from consignors. The percentage from estates varies based on their size and value.

The hardest part of his job, Kennedy said, is telling someone that a beloved item or house full of furniture isn't going to bring the hoped-for price.

Kennedy is also a certified master appraiser, which means he has reached the level of training that he can testify in court cases as an expert witness. He expected he'd be called in for a lot of probate cases but said he has testified more for divorces as couples are making sure they are getting a fair share of assets.

Whether it's a divorce, auction or yard sale, he offers strong advice.

"I always say you should never sell something unless you know exactly what it is," he said. "I'm a big fan of saying if you don't like the price you can get, keep it. Give it to your relatives, give it to your kids.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampbay.com.

Auctioneer is selling Patty and Friends Antique Mall 02/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 6:30pm]

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