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What a Garage Sale! Everything Goes as Computer Maker Leaves Town

July 11, 1996

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) _ The jobs went first. Now come the bargains.

Zenith Data Systems, which recently closed its huge computer factory in southwestern Michigan, is holding a two-day rummage sale of more than 10,000 items _ from cabinets to computers, oscilloscopes to microscopes.

Hundreds of people from the Midwest moved through the 532,000-square-foot building Thursday to bid on company leftovers, even a cafeteria-style ice machine ($800).

Hundreds more were expected Friday for the motherlode: more than 3,000 personal computers and countless accessories.

``We have every computer part you can possibly imagine,″ said John Ward, vice president of Koll-Dove Global Disposition Services, a California auction company. ``If you wanted to get into the computer-making business, it could start here.

``In general, buyers can save 20 (percent) to 30 percent of what they’d pay at retail,″ he said.

Of course, there are no guarantees. At an auction, the customers set the price.

As the cadence of the auctioneer blared in the background, people walked the aisles to kick the tires, or at least press the keyboards, of the computers.

There are laptops, desktops, 486s, 386s, computers with CD-ROM as well as the powerful Pentium chip. Zenith Data’s major customer is the federal government, but production ended here after Packard Bell Electronics became the new owner. Approximately 600 jobs were lost.

``There’s plenty to choose from,″ said Andrew Svabas of Three Oaks, a mechanical engineer who works at home. ``My budget is $1,000 to $1,500. I’d like to get a Pentium, but I’m sure it will be tough with all the dealers who will show up. I’ll hang in there.″

Michael MacKay, a former Zenith Data engineer, was available to answer questions.

``Most of these computers came off the desks of the people who worked here. We’ve got some new ones to sell, too,″ he said. ``I’ve talked to big salvage dealers and people like you and me who just want a good deal.″

MacKay said one salvage dealer carried a $250,000 certified check. His target: computer circuit boards, which are often stripped for the precious metals used to make them.

Stephen Calk wasn’t interested in computers. With an interior designer at his side, the Chicago mortgage banker drove 120 miles to furnish his expanded office.

``We paid $13,500 for desks, partitions, pedestals _ enough stuff to create 25 to 30 work stations,″ he said. ``This would have cost me $75,000 if we went through a furniture broker. I’ve still got more money to work with.″

Indeed, moments later he bid $6,500 for more cubicles. Sold!

Everything must go. An oscillating fan sold for $20, a 25-inch color television with remote, $130. Sixteen pallets of plastic foam packing material went for $150.

George Miller of Joliet Valves Inc. of Minooka, Ill., picked up two chest-high tool boxes with assorted tools for $650. ``If I went to Sears, I’d pay $1,000,″ he said.

MacKay, the former Zenith employee, said the two-day sale is like a wake for the old place.

``You can moan about it, but Packard Bell has a huge production facility in California,″ he said. ``They offered us a lot of jobs in Sacramento. It’s over, it’s time to move on.″

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