Business booming at B.C. auction houses as COVID-19 takes economic toll

A notice of default on the window of a permanently closed restaurant on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. Simon Little / Global News

As the economic toll of Canada’s COVID-19 lockdown sets in, business has been brisk at B.C.’s Able Auctions.

Sales volume is up, but prices are down as the business handles a surge in equipment, much of it from the restaurant industry.

“We’re dealing with a lot of people who are near retirement and they’ve made the decision they just don’t want to battle through this,” said co-owner Jeremy Dodd.

READ MORE: B.C. businesses ‘in need of life support’ due to coronavirus fallout

“There’s a lot more on the market, it’s definitely a buyer’s market.”

Dodd showed Global News the inventory of a former pizza shop that would have previously brought in about $70,000 that he estimated could now sell for less than half that amount.

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Restaurants Canada published a survey earlier this month that found 10 per cent of Canadian restaurants have shut down for good, while another 18 per cent worried they wouldn’t survive April.

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And it’s not just restaurants.

A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses found nearly a third of its members didn’t have the cash flow to pay April bills, while almost 40 per cent feared they would go under.

The federal government has unveiled a suite of measures, including wage subsidies, meant to help businesses stay afloat and hinted Wednesday that it might help with commercial rent as well.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C.’s aid plan for businesses focuses on tax relief

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But Dodd says there’s no shortage of people pulling the plug.

“You hear a lot of tough stories and people who are in difficult positions,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about how is the market, how are things going to sell.

“I’ve told them, we know what the market is like right now, it’s tough. I don’t know what its going to be like three months from now or six months from now, it might be a lot tougher.”

Sales volumes and prices aren’t the only thing that have changed at the auction house.

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The whole operation has now gone online to ensure proper social and physical distancing.

Dodd said the popular Vancouver police recovery auction, which would usually draw thousands of would-be buyers for a single-day sales frenzy, has now been split up into five days, each a week apart.

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He said he hopes to see a return to the classic format, auctioneer and all once the pandemic lifts, but that for the meantime, “it is what it is.”

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“People love going to the auctions … it really is the best way, get a bunch of people in the room, get them all excited to bid on something they all want,” he said.

“It’s the best way to sell stuff, but until we can get back there, we’re here.”