EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The city of Eau Claire is in the business of turning trash into treasure. 'Gov Deals' is an online auction website used to get rid of the city's surplus equipment.
The city has been using it since 2005, but it wasn’t until just two months ago the city decided to get rid of an old barber chair. The barber chair was sitting in the former Eau Claire Vocational School at 1300 First Ave.
Gov Deals is a lot like Ebay. Cities across the U.S. can auction off government items like laptops, vehicles, or other equipment. Anyone can bid and the highest bidder wins.
“We sell everything from old chairs to book cases to other types of equipment that we no longer need,” said assistant city manager Dale Peters. “Some may remember we held a physical auction at the Hobbs ice arena, in the summer. We would take all of the excess bikes and excess equipment’s and excess material and we would sell it all at once, on one day, at one auction.”
Gov Deals has proven to be more efficient, said Peters. More bidders, more revenue and a fast turnover for equipment sold. The city makes about $10,000 a year from that website and the money then goes towards a general fund so that other equipment can be bought.
But it took decades before the city decided to get rid of the barber chair. In 2011, the city consolidated its facilities and moved the Parks and Recreation department from the former vocational school.
“As part of the process of selling that building, we've been clearing old closets and old backroom and we came across an old barber chair. The barber chair has been there for as long as anybody can remember,” said Peters.
The barber chair ended up getting 22 different bids from two bidders. The winning bid was $102 from Georgetown, South Carolina.
Rodney Long owns PoBoys Discount. It’s a company that buys, sells and liquidates restaurants like ‘Buzz’s Roost’ in Georgetown.
“I was surfing Gov Deals and saw this one and actually,” said Long.
Long said it’s a chair he’s been searching for. His goal was to replace a barber chair for a business man who lost a similar barber chair to a fire at Buzz’s Roost.
The Front Street fire happened in September 2013 and Long says it is a historical fire, not only because many of the buildings that were burnt down were from the 1800s but because of the impact it left in the small city of Georgetown. Many of the businesses burnt down were mom and pop shops.
“To get a call at 5:30 in the morning, that everything that he worked for is up in flames it was pretty devastating,” said Long. “He had just bought an old barber’s chair, he'd been looking to have one just to set in the corner of the bar in the restaurant, and he just lost everything that he had in this fire.”
After getting the winning bid, he worked with the city to get it strapped to pallet and sent a trucking company to pick it up.
Come June, the chair that once sat in storage at an empty building in Eau Claire will be a symbolic surprise for a business owner who's rebuilding his business from square one. The business owner has no idea that during the grand opening of his new restaurant, Long and PoBoys will have a barber chair at the corner of his bar, like he had at his business that burnt down.
“Just a small token for a guy coming back into business. He’s just a good guy, he's a fantastic guy and he worked hard,” said Long.
Peters said it’s rewarding to see surplus items that the city no longer need be useful.
“Particularly when it can be used as a surprise or something that’s fun, it’s neat to see equipment go to good use,” said Peters.
Peters said all of the city surplus property is sold at GovDeals.com. People can also find the Eau Claire Police Department’s unclaimed property at a separate but similar site called Property Room.
The Police Department receives about $5,000 from those auction sales which goes to the same fund as the city’s auction sales. Typically, Peters said bicycles and stolen items turn up at the auction site when it goes unclaimed.
Among the more valuable items the city auctioned off was an atomic absorption spectrometer. It's used to test chemicals at the waste water treatment plant, said Peters. That went for $12,000.