A 1960s aerial photo of the Gentner’s Commission Market. Raymond Gentner’s house and the cow barn are in the picture, these have seen been burned or raised. Also note the corral in the rear of the barn.
By Derek M. Otto
Within the past week, the residents of Springville and surrounding areas have been given the news that the Gentner Commission Market or better known as the Springville Auction would close indefinitely. That caused the Springville gossip mill to go buzzing about. It was posted that the auction would go on and be open for business Dec. 21, 2016. Over the past week, one could hear that this person would buy it or that it would close for good. It was an overall bummer for Springville. We collectively realized that the auction was our identity; if you mention you’re from Springville, NY, in the greater western New York region you would hear, “Oh! I’ve been to the auction.” “Springville— that’s where they have the auction.” You never hear, “Springville, that’s the home of Pop Warner.” What makes the auction the auction? Why is it valuable to Springville?
The auction has changed since it was organized in 1939 by local farmers Norbert Kessler and Raymond Gentner. The original auction was just people meeting on the hill selling their livestock. The barn came in 1940. “The auction barn offered space for livestock, an auction arena that seats up to five hundred, and a small lunchroom,” according to the Buffalo News in a February 1942 article; the News goes on further to say, “It is not uncommon to see 100 head of cattle, 200 calves, a hundred coop of poultry, 150 pigs and 15 to 30 horses. “ Like today, the auction would begin outside with the selling of common household goods and produce. In 1942, there was no mention of the flea market. It didn’t exist. The flea market would come later.
“During the 1950s and 1960s, the auction hosted a horse auction on the first Friday night of the month during the warm months,” says Mary Witt, who worked there for 13 years during the late 1950s and the 1960s. “There was no room for a flea market. There were corrals for the cows and parking where the flea market is now.” Witt was there when the cow barn burnt and remembers how that really changed the look of the barn. You have vendors there now but the west side was all barn.
The beginning of a farmers market was noted in an August 2006 article in the New York Times, featuring the Springville Auction; it noted that Donna Goldhawk’s family started coming from Gasport to sell their fruits and vegetables; they were the first to do so in 1945. The flea market began more than 40 years ago and was run by Ron Sahr for many years. At its peak in the summer months, the flea market will have 70 or so vendors and maybe 300 to 400 people bidding on items. In 1950, the Buffalo News ran another article on the auction; it noted that at least 800 people came to Springville for the auction. Today, the number is about 1,000 people coming from all over to visit the auction on Wednesdays.
The auction today remains more of a social spot for farmers and the Amish. Some people have been coming to the auction weekly for 50 to 60 years. There are many memories and recollections. Important now is what do people in Springville hold dear about the auction today? I asked several Springville people to give me their thoughts:
Carl Sturzenbecker mentioned that he doesn’t go to the auction like he used to; he has gotten older and it is harder to get up the hill. “I do go; however, when the county gives senior citizens vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Markets. Without the auction I wouldn’t be able to use them or get the valuable fresh fruits and vegetables. “
Victor Bly recalled a lawn mower he bought there. “It lasted 15 years. I bought it there when Jeanne Fancher was still working there.” “I still get many of vegetable plants for my vegetable garden there.”
Mary Witt remembered, “One of the worst things about working there was looking for calves that were in the wrong pens when there number was called up you had to take them to the arena. If you couldn’t find them it was quite the hassle.”
Angel Steward said that it was a shame if the auction closed. “There are people who rely on the affordability of the fruits and vegetables. My neighbor buys her flowers and landscaping supplies there. Without it, I know she wouldn’t be able to do her landscaping. What worries me most is where am I going to take my out of town relatives?”
Carla Narroway simply said, “The cheese. Where can you get quality cheese so reasonable?”
Linda Hoare recalled when she first came here there were so many animals it was different than today.” “About 20 years ago, they had an auction just dedicated to Christmas. I wish they would do that again. “
One of my favorites stories came from Judy Wright as told to me in Wal-Mart. She recalled the early days of the flea market. “Sam Pinelli would come from Angola with these bushel baskets full of junk. It was all junk. Well one day I found this thing; it was a round old looking thing. It was just cool to look at. I asked Sam what he wanted for it. He said ’50 cents.’ Ok so I bought it. I was living in East Aurora at the time so I know it was over 40 years ago, and at that time I also sold books from my house. Well this man who was a professor at Buffalo State wanted to see my books, so I let him in. Ironically, I had left that thing on a coffee table in that room and went in the kitchen to do dishes. The man exclaimed and went back in the room and he told me that the thing was a pre-Columbian rattle valued at $1,500. After he told me what it was I really wanted it. He said that if I ever wanted to sell it, he would buy it. He then told me it was stolen from his house a year ago.” Judy eventually gave the man the rattle, believing it was meant to be for that man to have the rattle back. “The odds of him coming to my house and fact that the rattle was placed in the room it was meant to go back to him,” she said.
The auction is a destination point for some. Furthermore it provides a necessary service to our community by giving access to affordable and nutritious food to people who would otherwise go without. As many in Springville felt this past week, we hope the auction endures for many years to come.