with gallery: Parthenon auction draws mix of bidders as contents of Ann Arbor restaurant are sold off
John Gavas leaned against his antique cigarette machine inside downtown Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant, a grin on his face that seemed one part curious observer, and other parts sentiment and sadness.
He watched as the iconic corner building, which has served countless gyro-seeking customers for 37 years, was filled again on Wednesday - three days after its closing - with everything inside up for public auction.
Parthenon’s walls - which have held countless “Opa!”s across five decades - echoed the racing voice of auctioneer Brian Braun, offering items at pennies on the dollar. Thirty to 40 people showed up for the auction, bidding on items for a variety of reasons.
Restaurant owners bid on items for their business, longtime customers bid on items of sentimental value. Others just looked for items made of metal to scrap at a junkyard.
Gavas and his brother Steve, who came to Chicago from the small village of Achladokambos, Greece in 1968, and moved to Ann Arbor seven years later to open Parthenon, watched as the last of their business was sold off.
“It’s happy and sad,” said John, who will leave for Greece next week on a long overdue vacation. He hasn’t visited in three years. The ticket he bought, he said, is “open ended,” with a deep chuckle.
Stained glass windows which the brothers hoped would sell in the hundreds of dollars - they paid $1,000 apiece for them back in Chicago - went for $175 at their highest, less than $100 at their lowest.
“I bought ‘em cuz I liked ‘em,” said Richard Milluchick, of Ann Arbor, who said he’s undecided what he’ll do with the two windows he bought.
The cigarette machine John estimated would fetch several hundreds of dollars because of its antique value, fetched $125. John doesn’t remember the last time the machine was actually used for it’s intended purpose.
“How long it’s been since cigarettes were $3 a pack?” John asked jokingly, pointing at the price sticker on the machine. “That’s how long.”
Andy Tankanow, owner of Moon Winks Cafe on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, was able to get a meat slicer and point of purchase system for a combined $1,000. He estimated the items value at roughly double what he paid.
There were certain things you couldn’t put a price tag on, but the auctioneers did anyway. Joan Schmerl has been coming to Parthenon at least once a month since it opened and bought a picture that’s hung on the walls for years. She paid $35. She’d pay 100 times that to have her favorite restaurant back.
She asked a longtime cook what the best Greek restaurant in Ann Arbor is now that Parthenon is gone.
“He said none, go to Chicago,” Schmerl said, with a sad laugh.
The item that fetched the most dough was the machine that’s mixed so much of it over the years. A man in the food service industry, who asked not to be named, paid $1,600 for a dough mixer. John said it cost him $10,000.
He’s content to be retiring. But that one stung a little.
“Restaurant owners, they don’t buy what they used to,” John said. “Even from five years ago. No one has any money. You’ve got to save.”
Some longtime customers stopped in to say goodbye on Wednesday. Don Hamilton drove from Romulus, as he has since the ‘70s, to feast on a gyro. He asked John if they were remodeling.
“Yeah,” John joked. “Come back Monday for lunch.”
Hamilton laughed, but was saddened to hear the news.
As the hours passed by and the once full building began to empty, one of the few items not for sale sat alone atop a high top table, which of course had already been sold.
They were cards and flowers, dropped off from longtime customers since the announcement of the restaurant’s closing weeks ago.
“Thank you for all the years of wonderful food, excellent and and friendly service and the security of having Parthenon on the corner,” one card read. “We will miss your restaurant and you.”