Published: August 14, 2001
By Liza Montgomery
CLEVELAND, OHIO – ewolfs.com has shut down its online auction operation until further notice.
The firm’s Web site, developed two years ago by Wolf’s auction house, disappeared from the Internet in July, while its representatives could not be reached by phone or e-mail. A skeleton home page has since surfaced over the August 11-12 weekend. All linked pages to the site – including “Auctions,” “Register to Bid,” “Ask Our Experts,” “Art & Antiques Wanted,” “About Wolfs,” “Contact Us,” and “Join Our Email List” – remain inoperable.
The news comes as a surprise to many consignors, clients and onlookers. ewolf’s enjoyed a successful, $1.3 million debut in April 1999 and conducted several popular auctions the following year. Former CEO Michael Wolf, who founded Wolf’s in 1979 and resigned from the firm in the fall of 2000, suggests administrative blunders are responsible for the site’s demise.
“When we decided to make the transition to the Internet we knew we had to raise $5 to $10 million,” he told us. “We did this when things were hot. We found someone to design a rudimentary auction program and we knew we could get ahead of the curve if we could get [it] started immediately. We [took] on shareholders to expand our financial base.
“We had a well-thought-out business plan that we were going to execute. Once we demonstrated our potential at the very first auction, people became interested. We took on investors.
“What’s the easiest business to run? Somebody else’s,” Wolf continued. “The old partners were experienced. We had a good chemistry. The new partners were very aggressive, and felt that they knew more than we did about what we had been doing for 25 years. I could not continue to run the company with [them]. Unfortunately, the management has fallen into the wrong hands.”
ewolf’s partner William Chrisant, former owner of Cleveland Antiquarian Books, bought out by Wolf’s in February 2000, tells a different story.
“We’re in a financial crisis. When [Michael Wolf] resigned at the meeting last year, he did so when people were questioning what he was doing. I thought he would come back, but the more that investors found out, the less they wanted that to happen.
“We are trying to salvage the company and pay off consignors,” Chrisant went on. “Everyone involved wants to see that addressed. Part of the current proposal, just faxed to me today [August 6], states that it will be addressed. There’s money on the table for this. The partners are impatient to do something. The company is less viable for every minute that ticks by.”
One client awaiting repayment is a Texas collector and dealer who asked Antiques and The Arts Weekly for anonymity.
“I was initially impressed with the process and some of the prices [ewolf’s] achieved,” he said. “Over time I started to send better, high-dollar consignments. I had been working with Mitch Sotka, who was the head of decorative arts and furniture.
“One day in June I called [about] the status of my consignment proceeds check to find that Mitch had been laid off, effective immediately. He spoke to me one last time, assuring me that he would try to facilitate the return of any of my consignments.
“I like Mitch and hated to see this happen,” the collector added. “After five weeks of leaving messages, I finally got my consignments back, but have still to recover more than $1,500 that was due over one month ago.
“I am waiting it out and wishing for the best. I have been involved in the process of selling and buying online for five years, primarily via eBay. The economic slowdown and the resulting stock market drops have cut deep and hard into the consumer spending for such luxury goods. Auction houses are feeling the pinch just as the dealers are. I know I will be very hesitant to do business with ewolfs again. I’ll need to see proof of [their] viability and stability.”
Chrisant is optimistic that such stability is possible.
“The [current] proposal asks the partners for a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “Several investors are deeply committed. ewolfs needs to be preserved as an institution in Cleveland.”
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