LEWISTON — Despite nearly two dozen potential buyers and an enthusiastic auctioneer who all but begged for bids, only one of the Pepperell Mill's three parcels sold Friday — and that one went to an owner's son.
The 162-year-old mill complex sits on nine acres at 550 Lisbon St. and includes multiple buildings with a total of 360,000 square feet. Business partners Bob Gladu and Ralph Sawyer have owned the complex for 27 years and currently rent space to 25 tenants, some of whom use it for manufacturing or small business needs and others who use it for storage.
Gladu and Sawyer want to retire and decided to auction the property for a quick sale.
But while nearly two dozen people gathered at the mill Friday afternoon, few seemed to be in a bidding mood.
The city has appraised the mill complex at $1.2 million. In an effort to get as much for the property as possible, Gladu and Sawyer held two bidding processes: first offering the complex as a whole and then offering it in three parcels.
Auctioneer Adrian Harris started the bidding on the whole complex at $1 million.
Facing a roomful of bidders with crossed arms and cross expressions, he dropped that $1 million to $100,000 within seconds.
"Anybody interested in the whole parcel?" Harris asked. "A hundred thousand. I have $100,000. Now $200,00?"
He would get his $200,000, but that was all.
Splitting the property into three parcels didn't do much better.
For the first parcel, the property that fronts Lisbon Street and contains most of the mill complex's buildings, Harris started the bidding at $1 million. He quickly dropped it to $50,000.
The bidding would bounce up, but not far enough for the auctioneer.
"Remember these numbers here, with the 25, 26 tenants. (They) generate $27,000 a month. Where else can you make any nicer money than that?" Harris asked.
The price would ultimately reach $150,000, far short of the $1 million starting bid and less than the secret reserve price Gladu and Sawyer had set.
The second parcel is behind the first one and off Adams Avenue. It contains one building, with half of that space rented to a welding company. Bidding started at $500,000, but it didn't stay there long.
"One seventy-five?" Harris asked, reaching out toward the bidders imploringly. "One seventy-five? One seventy-five? One seventy-five?"
The highest bid was $150,000.
The third parcel runs along the other two and is land only. Bidding started at $500,000. The highest bid was $40,000.
After conferring with the auctioneer in another room, Gladu and Sawyer decided the bids were too far below what they wanted. Harris returned to the action floor and announced he was wiping the bids.
"Everything is off the table," he said.
This time the minimums would be announced — $525,000 for the whole complex, for example, and $300,000 for just the first parcel, the one with most of the buildings.
Gladu and Sawyer wouldn't get what they wanted.
Only the second parcel, the one with a lone building, would meet the minimum. The buyer who originally bid $150,000 upped his offer to the $200,000 Gladu and Sawyer wanted.
That buyer was Gladu's son, Robert Thomas Gladu, and his son's business partner.
"That kind of surprised me," the elder Gladu said.
Some bidders spoke to Gladu and Sawyer after the auction and expressed interest in the remaining property, but none made a deal.
The men will continue to try to sell their remaining two parcels.
"(The auction) drew some interest," Gladu said. "But we were disappointed in the bidding."