Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Mecum Auctions working on museum, diner

by Rob Ireland

February 23, 2012

Dana Mecum is building a 1950s style diner and classic car museum in his Walworth building.
WALWORTH — On one end of the inside of Mecum Auctions, construction crews are turning an old grocery store into a 1950s-style diner and a museum for classic muscle cars.

On the other side, sales representatives talk to clients about consignments for upcoming auctions.

Dry erase boards mark goals for the next three auctions, which are occurring in Kansas City, Houston and Indianapolis.

Dana Mecum has big plans for his company, which hosts major car auctions every month.

He already has announced he is moving his corporate headquarters from Marengo, Ill., to the village of Walworth. But the move, which is already in progress, isn't the end of Mecum's plans. Rather, it's just the beginning.

Mecum's Walworth building is at the old Spieglehoff's Pick'n Save site, 445 South Main St.

Before all of his plans can come to fruition, some financing will need to fall in place. If everything follows Mecum's dreams, the village will see an auction facility built on the property and a 100,000- square-foot storage building for classic cars.

Last week, the Village Board approved a more than $26.5 million industrial bond to back the expansion proposed by Mecum Auctions.

The bond doesn't put the taxpayers on the hook if Mecum Auctions fails to repay it, but instead the financial backers of the bond don't have to pay federal income taxes on the interest the investors earn.

Mecum said he has never gone through the process of selling an industrial bond, and isn't sure how long it will take.

That is why he doesn't want to make everything out to be certain, but Mecum has experience closing deals. After all, his bobble head showcases his unofficial title, "The Dealmaker."

He hopes, and he puts an emphasis on the word "hopes," to bring a major car auction to the village of Walworth. His plan would be to replace the four-day auction that is held in St. Charles, Ill. In 2011, the four-day auction featured more than 1,000 cars.

"We still have a lot of challenges," Mecum said. "I would love to have everything ready for this fall, but we have a lot ahead of us."

TV exposure, growth

Mecum Auctions also is featured on a TV show, "Muscle Cars and More," on the Discovery Network's Velocity channel. Auctions are often broadcast live for hours on end on the channel.

The auction house has grown about four fold in the past four years, which Mecum attributes, in part, to the television coverage.

With cameras on Mecum throughout the auctions, he has developed a celebrity status, and he has been treated well by fans.

People will smile at him at the airport and he is happy to smile back. Some people approach him, and others ask for autographs for their grandchildren.

Sometimes people will ask him to take a picture with their grandchildren, and that is something he "enjoys all day long."

Although Mecum Auctions is a multi-million dollar a year business, it sold about $175 million worth of cars in 2011, its new headquarters certainly doesn't have the feel of a large corporation.

Before walking into the building, a sign on the front door warns visitors that dogs may bark at them, but not to worry because they won't bite. Three pooches roam freely through the building, which is filled with pristine, classic automobiles and other smaller items from an era when muscle cars ruled the roads.

The diner, museum and "speakeasy" also will bring visitors back in time.

In the middle of the building, crews currently are constructing the entrance of the museum, which will resemble that of a bank from the 1930s era.

The diner and speakeasy are being built so groups can hosts gatherings at Mecum Auctions. All of these additions will create new jobs in the village.

When Mecum Auctions first came to Walworth, it employed about 10 people full time, and that has now expanded to 36. In the next year to 15 months he hopes to hire an additional 12 to 15 employees.

By 2014, Mecum hopes to have 24 new full-timers, and he also employs a small army of part-time workers to assist the company at the events held around the country.