Exterior of the Century Bar.
Photo: The Century Bar
Photo: The Century Bar

BIDDING WAR: Century Bar’s iconic neon sign sells for nearly 3x minimum after frenzied auction finish

Final day brings a flurry of 39 bids that more than doubles the final sales price   

***UPDATE (April 24, 2020)***

The gavel has come down on the online auction of the iconic neon sign that once hung over The Century Bar in downtown Dayton, and the final sales price, boosted by a spirited late bidding war, came in nearly three times higher than the minimum opening bid.

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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 a bidding war erupted, mostly between two bidders. Their frenzied bidding in the final hours helped push the price up from $6,300 at the start of the final day to the final winning bid of $14,925. The minimum opening bid was $5,000.

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The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately known, but Diane Spitzig, owner of The Century Bar, said this morning that all of the bidders were local.

“To say we were ecstatic with the winning bid is a bit of an understatement,” Spitzig told this news outlet this morning, 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.”

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

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. 

Aug. 1 1977 photos of the exterior of the Century Bar.
Photo: 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.

Exterior of the Century Bar.
Photo: 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. 

The Century Bar is in talks to move a door down to 18 S. Jefferson in downtown Dayton.
Photo: 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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