The Toronto Star tries to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the collapse of Ritchie’s auction house. It now emerges that the central issue is C$1m that owner Ira Hopmeyer took out of the business while trying to sell his interest in Ritchie’s to Stephen Ranger who ran the business on a day-to-day basis. Ranger quit in frustration and Hopmeyer seems to have laid everyone off, though now he denies giving the instructions. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s has had to shell out C$750,000 to cover the consignors. The Star gives us a description of Hopmeyer and his dispute with Ranger:
He is fast-moving, sleek. Yet he also seems wary, whether by nature or long experience in the auction business, more precisely the less-than-genteel business of salvage and industrial auctions, selling off the remaining morsels of distressed or defunct companies.
Pre-Ritchies, he was the third generation in that line of work via the family’s Continental Salvage, which Hopmeyer and his late brother ran out of the old Lipton’s Tea building near St. Lawrence Market until they sold the business in the 1980s. […]
By the end of July, Ranger had relinquished his shares and resigned. The entire staff was laid off, though even this event had a surreal quality. Hopmeyer has insisted he was blindsided by the layoffs, and is now mopping up the mess left by management. Yet Fraser Elliott, who issued the layoff notices, says he did so at Hopmeyer’s behest. “He gave me verbal instructions.” […]
Still, Ritchies had been marginally profitable most years, Ranger says. “It’s a very difficult business to make money in. You hear about record prices all the time. The reality is, we handle 10,000 to 20,000 objects a year that sell for under $500.”
A Hammer That Didn’t Fall (Toronto Star)