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Sale of the century

Sale of the century


Hiking shoes, camping gear and North Face coats will replace boxes of Miracle-Gro, garden tools and bags of mulch.

On Thursday, a 101-year-old building in downtown Roanoke changed hands for the first time in a century.

A Natural Bridge couple, retailers Tina and Kirk Miller, purchased the former Agnew Seed building on Market Street for $551,250 during an auction held inside this historic storefront. The Millers plan to shift one of their downtown Roanoke stores, Walkabout Outfitter, into the space. They own two Walkabout stores, selling outdoor apparel and supplies, and two Ladles & Linens shops, which sell kitchen supplies. Both retailers have locations in downtown Roanoke and downtown Lexington.

Just before the auction at 1 p.m, a standing-room-only crowd squeezed into the narrow seed shop at 301 Market St., with its weathered wood floors and tin ceiling.

Video: At the auction

Video by Sam Dean, Seth Gitner | The Roanoke Times

Auctioneer Russell Seneff suggested an opening bid of $800,000, but the figure quickly dropped to $500,000. It didn't go up much from there.

"Don't think coulda, woulda, shoulda," Seneff said, trying to coax high bids and potential buyers.

The Millers' bid of $525,000 was the highest of several bids offered. There were 12 total registered bidders for the building. The contract price, due in full on April 6, includes a 5 percent buyers premium.

"When we came here, we thought 'it's not going to happen,' " Tina Miller said. She and Kirk figured that the building would sell for more than they planned to bid, which was $525,000 maximum. Their desire is to own retail space.

"We've rented for many years," Kirk Miller said. The couple are not planning extensive renovations to the shop.

This year, the 4,750-square-foot Agnew Seed structure was assessed at $308,600, according to city records. There were a few pre-auction offers for the building, but Jim Woltz, owner and president of Woltz & Associates in Roanoke, would not disclose the amount of the offers. His real estate company conducted the auction.

As the bidding progressed, Pat Agnew, the former owner, stood inside the shop near one of the front windows.

"I feel sad because I'm losing family mementos," she said. "But I'm glad to have the burden off of me of running it."


The closing

Message board

In July, her husband, Kent Agnew, was found dead inside the seed shop that he owned and operated. Kent Agnew bled to death from an "incised wound" on a forearm in what was ruled a suicide, according to the state medical examiner's office in Roanoke.

Pat Agnew closed Agnew Seed immediately after her husband's death, and she reopened it in September. But she closed the store for good on Dec. 23, with plans to sell the building and most of its contents.

The seed shop was founded in 1897, and its Market Street building was erected in 1907.

The Agnew's Web site states that it is the oldest seed store in Virginia. The business was started by relatives of Frank Agnew, Kent Agnew's father, according to the site. Frank Agnew took over the store with W.S. Connelly in 1946.

Kent Agnew eventually became owner, after his father died in 1990.

Pat Agnew said she expected to receive a higher price for the building, but she was happy with the auction's outcome.

"I know they're decent people," she said about the Millers.

The Millers weren't the only ones who made a historic investment Thursday. During the afternoon, people bid on the contents of the storied Agnew business, from seed racks and fertilizer to flower pots and seeds.

John Campbell of Rockbridge County paid $90 for a large white vintage sign lettered with "Agnew's Warehouse, seeds and fertilizers."

He plans to hang the sign outside his new home, a former barn that he's reconstructing.

Staff writer Amanda Codispoti contributed to this report.

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