Noe Valley Voice November 1999

David Reynolds, Charity Auctioneer

By Rayne Wolfe and Collin Campbell

David Reynolds has auctioned off a pizza for $8,000. He has rapped the gavel for front pews in churches and for quilts made by kindergarten classes. But what might be of more interest to his Noe Valley neighbors is his talent for auctioning off parking karma.

"For one hundred dollars, you may have excellent parking karma. Having never driven myself, I have oodles of parking karma to give away and customarily charge $100 -- for charity, of course. Always for a good cause."

Reynolds, who is known for his wry wit and outrageous costumes, began his career in 1976 at the Wine Merchant, a wine retailer in Beverly Hills. He prepared for the job by spending three days hunched over books about wine at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Since then, he has been a wine retailer, wholesaler, sommelier, and radio commentator. His show, "The Reynolds Wine Rap," airs as a special feature on "The Food and Wine Enthusiast" Sundays at 9 a.m. on KABL Radio.

A native of London, Reynolds moved to Noe Valley 10 years ago from San Diego. He now lives with his wife at 23rd and Noe streets, where they both make "a feeble attempt" to keep the garden up.

At 46, Reynolds officiates at charity wine auctions around the country, working some 60 events per year. He is best known for his high-energy ability to rouse crowds and encourage amazing feats of generosity.

"The great thing about my job is that everyone is there to support a philanthropic cause. I just show them that it's as easy to write a check for $5,000 as one for $500. Besides, with $5,000, you get applause."

Although British, he uses the American auction style and offers some interesting background on auction history in America. "You may have seen auctioneers use the honorary title of 'Colonel.' That is because, during the Civil War, President Lincoln trained a cadre of colonels to be auctioneers to travel down south to auction off the spoils of that war," says Reynolds.

"The British are known for concentrating on the 'bid,' or what someone in the audience is offering," he continues. "Americans concentrate on the 'call,' what the auctioneer is hoping to raise for the piece. The American style allows for quicker bidding."

The trick to running an exciting auction is to keep it fast and fun.

"What you try to do during the event is focus kindly on a few enthusiastic audience members," Reynolds says. "Or you try to think of a funny little scenario that will intrigue the audience.

"For example, I just recently did an event where there were several millennium packages that weren't selling at all. We had four tickets for a New Year's Eve party concert by a very, very famous singer. The starting bid was $10,000 with absolutely no bids. So I suggested that perhaps there was someone in the audience who had relatives coming to visit for the holidays, and that by presenting this package as a gift to the house guests, they would be guaranteed a nice quiet evening alone at home while appearing the hero to their in-laws. Bang! A hand shot up -- and I had a bid, just like that.

"When things got slow later in the auction, I would refer back to the gentleman who didn't like his in-laws, and the evening just rolled along, peppered with good-natured ribbing about one's visiting relatives."

With his calendar filled five years out, Reynolds really appreciates coming home to relax in the neighborhood.

"I like it that there are more coffee machines than parking spaces in Noe Valley. And I especially like the feeling of living in a little village, where everything I care about is within walking distance."

He has his favorite haunts, including Caruso Wines, on 24th near Noe. "It's really a superb shop, where you can literally walk in with $10 and walk out with any one of 30 lovely bottles to choose from. It's a marvelous resource."

And he couldn't live without Lisa at Sea Breeze Cleaners on Castro Street. "Sometimes I'll run in with a crazy outfit made from kimonos and need it cleaned for an event the next day. Lisa just takes care of me. Never a reproach or growl. She is an angel of mercy."

Suitably dressed, and wearing his Elton John­style eyeglasses, Reynolds is ever ready to climb the steps to yet another charity auction. He has officiated locally for the San Francisco School, San Francisco Opera Guild, the Junior League of Napa and Sonoma, Sonoma Vintners and Growers, and the Sonoma-Cutrer Make-a-Wish Foundation, among others.

This Nov. 20, Reynolds will take his usual place as auctioneer for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's seventh annual fundraising auction gala -- called Capriccioso! -- at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where he will once again invite, solicit, sell, summon, and cajole guests to get in touch with their own benevolence.

"And if that doesn't work, I still have some parking karma left to auction off."