- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

Hundreds of prospective car buyers gathered inside a 50,000-square-foot building in Northeast yesterday with high hopes of driving away in the car of their dreams while helping local charities during the holiday season.

About 300 people showed up bright and early to place their bids on about 280 vehicles at Capital Auto Auction on Brentwood Road during the six-hour event that featured a champagne-colored 1999 Mercedes-Benz S420 in tip-top condition.

“We’ve been selling donated cars for over 15 years, and in that time, we’ve received some really generous donations,” said Gordy Zaritsky, vice president and co-owner of Capital Auto & Truck Auction Inc. But “this donation of the Mercedes to Goodwill [Industries] is definitely the most generous that we have ever received. My understanding is that the donor just wanted to help out a charity.”

Mr. Zaritsky, who owns the business with Mark Loesberg, said most cars are donated during the final two months of a year.

Capital Auto Auction serves as the auction house for such area charities as Melwood, Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, the National Kidney Foundation and the Red Cross. All proceeds from the sale of vehicles go directly to the charities, Mr. Zaritsky said.

“There are bargains to be had,” he said with a smile. “Every charity will benefit today.”

The crowd, which included men, women and children, huddled close together as the Mercedes-Benz S420 stopped in front of the podium where auctioneer Lex Knight enticed bidders to ante up and spend their money for a charitable cause.

“Ladies and gentlemen, look what just came in,” he said above the oohs and aahs from the crowd. “It’s got 54,000 original miles. This is what [the donor] drives to the pool.”

In fast-talking auctioneer lingo, Mr. Knight, 50, started the bidding at $15,000 and ended when John Knopf of Annapolis offered $26,000.

Mr. Knopf, 41, beamed as he walked away to take care of mandatory paperwork. Goodwill Industries will receive the money from the sale.

“I figure the money is going to a good cause,” Mr. Knopf said. “If I pay good money for it, it pays off and it’s for charity.”

He was undecided yesterday about whether to keep the car or give it as a gift.

Rusty Hinton was crestfallen after losing out to Mr. Knopf. The Northeast resident was the first bidder on the Benz.

“I bid $15,000 because I really wanted a Mercedes, and I thought $15,000 would have bought it,” he said with a resigned tone. “When the auction was advertised in the paper, I knew it would bring out people from other areas. I’m here a lot, and I felt I had a good chance. I upped my bid to $17,000. Well, I guess it’s all about money.”

The good news, Mr. Hinton said, was that the money will go to Goodwill Industries.

“The charity aspect is excellent,” he said. “If you want a car, this is the best place to get a charity car for $50 or $100, and the proceeds go to help others.”

Malek Sider of Arlington walked away from the auction with a smile on his face for two reasons: He bought a new car, and the money will benefit Melwood, which helps people in the metropolitan area with developmental disabilities.

Mr. Sider, 28, drove home a red 1983 Mazda 626. He paid $1,525 for the car, with 82,000 miles on it.

“I feel good,” he said. “I come here every once in a while to see if there’s something that I can afford. This is my second car from Capital Auto Auction. It’s a good place. And it’s awesome to give to charity. It’s a good thing these guys are doing.”

Mr. Knight, a professional auctioneer and independent contractor who lives in Spotsylvania, Va., said the most rewarding part of what he does every Saturday at the auction is knowing that the sales of cars help others.

“That’s one of the greatest things about this,” he said. “It’s for charity. One of the reasons Capital Auto Auction has grown is because it’s honest about giving the money back to the charities. This is really an investment in the community because the money goes right back into the community.”

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