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Morgan's Market oven gets a new life
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff Auctioneer Merton Musser, right, looks for a bid during Thursday's auction of the contents of Morgan's Market.

Fans of the former Morgan's Market quality fresh-baked bread will be pleased to know that a local food business, Grand Bagel Co., bought Morgan's special steam oven Thursday.

"We have a tentative agreement with Josh (Handsaker), the owner's son, to reopen the bakery portion" of Morgan's Market, said Grand Bagel owner Tom Jacobson.

Oven and baker both are expected to be operational by June at Grand Bagel on Grand just a couple of blocks east of Morgan's Market, Jacobson said.

"We've got everything else we need to make it work," he said. The bagel company not only will provide the same breads, but many of the same sandwiches, as well, both in-house and for delivery.

Jacobson was pleased with the purchase but a little surprised by the bidding, or lack thereof. The oven sold for $10,000, and Jacobson was the only bidder. He said he would have been willing to go another $5,000 if there had been competitors for the oven, which was valued at $35,000.

Other items at the auction were more contested, some fiercely so. One quartet drove the price of a pizza prep table to more than $1,000 in $5 increments before it was finally settled.

The sale started at 10 a.m. and was standing-room only for most of the morning. There were more than 200 bidders.

Aspirants lined the walls and leaned against racks and counters where space was available, watching as lots were projected onto a screen at the front of the room. The event gave new meaning to the phrase "everything must go."

Smaller items — olives, cheese, sausage, soda — remained on the shelves throughout most of the shop, and lots often included the products and the shelving together.

Decorations, kitchenware, chairs, even the kitchen sink — or, in this case, sinks — were sold. Altogether there were close to 300 lots.

The auction was conducted by a four-man team from Musser Brothers, an auction company with outlets in Washington, Idaho and Wyoming as well as Montana. Merton Musser, who heads up the local outlet, said the company performs 50 to 60 auctions in the Billings area in a given year.

The Morgan's Market auction was unique because it had "a real variety of types of lots," Musser said.

Bidders came from as far away as Helena and represented Billings businesses, including Montana Harvest Health Foods, Pug Mahon's Irish Pub and The Donut Hole.

The bidding was brisk, and the pace rarely slowed. There was only one break during the day for a "computer chip and auctioneer change," as Musser put it, and then the action began again.

Despite the activity, there was a sadness about the auction. It was clear just looking at the decor that the items being broken down and hauled away had been carefully coordinated by their former owner, Larry Handsaker.

"I think it's a shame, I really do," Tom Jacobson said of the closing last month of Morgan's Market.

"It was a good concept," said his wife, Julie Jacobson.

"A big city idea in a small town," he said.

Two neon "open" signs sold together for $130.