Clovis couple finds calling in auctioneering

James Priest of W&J Auctions auctioned off more than 5,000 items Saturday in a warehouse behind Joe’s Boot Shop. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

After more than a half century in business, James and Jerry Priest have a few simple rules for how they conduct auctions.

They bid on items just like other customers if there’s an item they like, and they base that rule on ethics. As for one of their other big rules — well, they base that one on experience.

“We had a young business, and a guy needed a trailer and had a monkey to trade,” Jerry Priest said. “It didn’t like me at all. He ended up in a zoo in Denver.

“We’ll sell anything that doesn’t eat. We got that philosophy from the monkey.”

The husband and wife don’t deal with animals anymore at W&J Auction, based out of the Priest family home on South Prince Street. What they deal with are estates and a huge group of regulars who keep them in business every Saturday.

Ask a member of the business how many sales they have in an average month, and they’ll ask, “How many Saturdays are in that month?”

The business first did auctions on Tuesday nights at its original location at 108 Pile St. decades ago, and later added Thursday night auctions.

The Priests settled on Saturdays because it wasn’t a school night for their four children, who helped with auctions. Now, the pattern is to prepare for an auction Tuesday through Thursday, have the merchandise on display Friday, sell on Saturday and take Sunday off before cleaning up on Monday.

James said the business went through tough times for the first 30 years because hot checks were more prevalent before credit cards became popular. He countered that he was always able to provide for his wife and four children and set his own hours, and the family’s never thought of selling the business.

“We’d just be selling blue sky,” Jerry said. “We’ve had offers to sell our mailing list (of nearly 11,000 people), but we won’t do that.”

Nor will they leave an item behind. She said there’s nothing that cannot be sold, except for American flags and Bibles. “We give those away,” she said.

All sales are on site, and the locations normally range within 500 miles of Clovis. Some exceptions to that rule, James said, included a $250,000 auction nearly 20 years ago in Virginia and an auction in Alaska two years ago.

The benefit of the business is a consistent customer base. Jerry said there are many instances where they’ve done three auctions for a family — one for the estate of the husband’s parents, one for the estate of the wife’s parents and one for the couple’s estate — but she added it’s never a great feeling to do an auction on the estate of a former customer or friend.

“It’s kind of hard, but you can’t mix your emotions in with business,” Jerry said. “We’ve sold both of our parents’ (estates as well).”

Another benefit of the business, James points out, is that it’s a family operation. The name was derived from the initials of himself and his father (W.A.), and roughly 40 members of the family have worked for the business at some point.

When James and Jerry Priest die or fall into poor health, son Gid Priest plans to continue the family business and its blueprint for success.
“We treat people right,” Gid said. “We do what we say we will.”