Auctioneer Ups the Bid on a Happy Life

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Steve Katz. Photo provided

So what would you bid to go on an African safari, play golf with Bill Clinton or spend an all-expenses-paid weekend with billionaire financier Michael Milken?

And where would you even go to have such an opportunity?

For starters, hang with Steve Katz, whose business card lists him as president and chief optimist of Premier Brokerage Services in Jenkintown. And while he’s done well enough on his own to not only live a comfortable life but make contributions to several charities, he’s also made a mark doing a different job.

Katz is an auctioneer.

You know — the fast-talking guy you might see on TV trying to up the ante on a piece of art or at a used car lot telling you what a sweetheart of deal that 1975 Chevy Vega is.

Except that Katz doesn’t auction off cars or Ming vases.

He’s the guy in the garish green, purple or turquoise tuxedo — he has 18 in all, which is a story in itself because he does everything in increments of that number, including pumping gas.

He’s the guy urging you to reach into your wallet for that little bit extra for the shul or the kids with that terrible disease, simply to make the highest bid for the opportunity of a lifetime, like getting in the ring with Joe Frazier.

“Statistically, Jews give more per capita than any ethnic group,” said Katz, who estimates he and his son, Josh, whom he incorporated into the “business” about a decade ago, do more than 50 auctions a year “but when you do a children’s disease, people give.

“It just depends on the charity.”

No matter the event, one thing never changes: Katz doesn’t bring home a dime.

“We take zero dollars,” he said, admitting that neither he nor or his son have a license or attended a single class. “We just ask for a donation to the Katz Family Charitable Trust.

“We may raise over $5 million at events. Out of that, we may generate another $40,000 to $50,000 in revenue for the foundation, which all goes out to Jewish day schools and other charities.”

As long as he plays by the rules, the National Auctioneers Association (NAA), which has 4,000 members and requires them to go through training, has no complaints.

“As long as somebody’s on the up-and-up, they’re talented and at the end of the night the clients are happy and the buyers are happy, you’ve probably got a good one,” said Curtis Kitchen, director of publications and trade shows for the Overland Park, Kan.-based NAA. “The NAA stresses ethics, so if he chooses to turn it back, all the better for him.”

Long before this ever came about, Katz realized he knew how to make a buck.

At the time, he was a 10-year-old kid living in St. Louis where his dad, David Katz, was an insurance agent who employed one of the more celebrated St. Louis Cardinals during the off-season. Back then, when ballplayers weren’t making millions like they do now, future Hall of Famer Lou Brock helped out whenever he could.

And Katz, the oldest of four children, sensed an opportunity.

“Lou Brock worked for my dad in the off-season and would come into our house,” he recalled, sitting in the West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown, which his brother, Bob, owns. “Now I was an entrepreneur since I was very young.

“For 10 cents you come in and sit at the chair where Lou Brock sat. All the kids would line up.”

Turn the clock ahead to today and Katz is still making them pay. But now it’s only for worthy causes.

It started when Katz got coaxed into giving it a shot by a woman who said, “Steven, if you can sell insurance you can be an auctioneer.” Once he started, they loved him, and the requests started pouring in.

Eventually, he brought his son into the fold.

“I was at Muhlenberg [College] when he called and said he’d double booked and really needed me,” Josh Katz said. “There were 500 people at the place and 22 items and I just froze. It took me a minute to gather myself, then I got a couple of laughs and fed off that. I’ve been doing it ever since.

But charity hardly begins at home for Steve Katz.

In addition to the auctions, he and his wife, Robin, serve on the board of the Jewish Relief Agency, which helps feed 3,500 families monthly. That came about as a direct result of something he said when he closed down Max & David’s, the kosher restaurant in Elkins Park named for his dad and grandfather.

“When it closed, I told my children, ‘I hope you enjoyed eating your inheritance,’” Katz said. “But then I said, ‘I’d rather feed people who can’t afford to eat rather than subsidize those who can.’

“I got a call right after that from [JRA President] Daniel Erlbaum asking, ‘Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is?’”

He usually is, which goes back to his parents, who uprooted the family from St. Louis and moved here when he was 12.

“My family did not have any money at that time, but my parents were extremely giving,” recalled Katz, who’s on the board of a number of organizations, including OROT and B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp. “They had four foster children after I moved out.

“My attitude is the same. You have a choice in the morning. You can wake up miserable or you can wake up happy. I choose to wake up happy. It’s way more fun.”

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