Buyer comes forward, says Century Bar’s iconic neon sign will stay local

Winning bid of $14,925 was nearly three times higher than opening bid

The iconic neon sign that once hung over the entrance to The Century Bar in downtown Dayton was purchased by the owner of a local construction company who intends to keep the sign local and re-auction it for the benefit of a Dayton-area non-profit organization in a couple of years.

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Bobby Dix told this news outlet this morning that he used his eBay account to place the winning bid of $14,925 on behalf of his boss, William Jergens, owner of R.B. Jergens Construction Services in Vandalia. The winning bid capped off a bidding war that pushed the price up from $6,300 at the start of the final day of the auction on Friday to the final winning bid of $14,925, nearly three times the minimum opening bid was $5,000.

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“It came down to the last 37 seconds,” Dix said. “And yes, there was definitely some bourbon consumption going on during the bidding.”

Dix was coy about what his bidding “ceiling” was. “We weren’t done, let’s just put it that way,” he said.

Jergens is scheduled to pick up the neon sign this afternoon, Monday April 27, Dix said.

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The online auction attracted eight different bidders and 51 total bids over seven days. But 39 of those bids came on the final day of the auction, when the bidding war erupted.

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“To say we were ecstatic with the winning bid is a bit of an understatement,” Diane Spitzig, owner of The Century Bar, told this news outlet Friday, April 24. “There aren’t words to describe how happy and grateful we are to both the buyer and the Idea Collective,” which had donated the sign back to The Century Bar.

>> THEN AND NOW: Historic photos of the Century Bar 

“We have always been told that the sign might be worth $5,000 to $7,000, possibly more to the right buyer. We started the bidding at $5,000 for that reason. We were just happy to get the first bid.”

As for the proceeds, Spitzig said the first priority “is keeping employees’ health insurance going. We pay 100 percent of their health insurance, so most of the money will go to that.”

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Some had questioned on social media why The Century Bar wasn’t using the sign. Spitzig said the bar’s move to the original DP&L building restricted the bar from using it.

“It’s in a historic district with historic tax credits,” she said. “You can’t put a 1960s neon sign on a building that was built in 1916. Our new sign will be made from wrought-iron and wood, typical of the time period.”

>> RELATED: Century Bar announces closing date for original location 

“Our friends from the Idea Collective/Tender Mercy had voluntarily done some design work for us, with no expectation of payment. When they expressed interest in the sign, we gave it to them as a thank you for the design work. They had every intention of keeping it in Dayton.”

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“Then COVID-19 hit. Without the ability to serve food, we had no recourse but to completely shut down. In order to help us, our friends, gave the sign back, suggesting that we put it up for auction.”

“In better times, we would have loved to refurbish it and donate it somewhere. Unfortunately, these are not better times.”

*** ORIGINAL STORY (April 16, 2020)***

A piece of Dayton history is going on the auction block to help the business it once represented stay afloat in the age of coronavirus.

As part of its re-branding and move, the owners of the Century Bar sold its iconic neon sign to The Idea Collective, the owners of Tender Mercy and Sueño.

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

"It just didn't fit who we are today," owner Diane Spitzig said of the 1960s sign, in a statement to this news organization.

>>Dayton’s most popular bourbon bar hit hard but will survive, its co-owner vows

“Much to our surprise, we received a call this week from The Idea Collective saying they wanted to help another small business. To aid in keeping the Century’s lights on, they are graciously giving us back the sign so that we can raise funds with it.”

>> THEN AND NOW: Historic photos of the Century Bar 


The sign will be placed for auction here on eBay. The starting bid is $5,000.

The bar formerly located at 10 S. Jefferson St. has been called the Century Bar since 1942.

Credit: The Century Bar

Credit: The Century Bar

>> RELATED: Century Bar announces closing date for original location 

Frank Steffen is said to have purchased the establishment's back bar around 1924 for Steffen's, a male-only "coffee shop" that opened in the Century's space three years after the Great Dayton Flood of 1913.

After a 32-day shutdown following a New Year’s Eve bash, the Century Bar reopened at  18 S. Jefferson St., a larger space next door, on Feb. 2.

The bar and all others were ordered closed six weeks later due to state efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Tender Mercy, an underground cocktail bar that was years in the making underneath the Avant-Garde Building at 607 E. Third St. in Dayton, was open just three days to the full public before the shutdown was ordered.

The owners pivoted quickly and launched what they call downtown Dayton’s first e-bodega: Mercy Mart.

Credit: Amelia Robinson

Credit: Amelia Robinson

>> Tender Mercy’s new Mercy Mart ‘e-bodega’ offers fresh produce, kitchen staples, beer & wine

“We are grateful and proud to auction the Century Bar sign on eBay,” Spitzig said in the statement. “This sale will help ensure that we can continue to serve you for the rest of the 21st century. It is our sincerest hope that the sign remains in Dayton or perhaps gets donated to the sign museum in Cincinnati.”


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