Northern Scottsdale resident Gini Topalian celebrates a major milestone this year.
It’s the 60th anniversary of her estate sale business, Gini’s Liquidation Sales, which she founded in 1959 in Birmingham, Michigan.
Over the decades upon decades of estate sale experience, Topalian has racked up a pink binder’s worth of “thank you” letters, newspaper clippings about her sales, and more – all laminated, neatly organized and dating as far back as the ‘70s.
“This is from a judge from Michigan,” she said, pointing at one of the letters. “When she found out I was coming to live here — she used to give me work there — she wrote a really nice letter about me.”
Topalian’s business started as a hobby and part-time job in Michigan. When she moved to Arizona in 1977, she quickly made a name for herself.
In addition to plenty of press and media coverage, Topalian’s reputation earned her the opportunity to work with high-profile, celebrity clients, including rocker and Valley resident Alice Cooper; French American anthropologist, artist, and writer Paul Coze; and former Arizona Governor Fife Symington, among others.
“As far as rewarding, I think Simonton because the court appointed me and that was a real feather in my cap,” Topalian said.
Estate sales are a way of liquidating the belongings of a family or estate, and they are typically held when someone is in need of a way to sell items due to moving, divorce, bankruptcy, or death.
In Symington’s case, the estate sale was held due to bankruptcy.
Shortly into Symington’s second term in office as governor, around 1996, the former governor filed for personal bankruptcy, claiming debts of more than $24 million due to unsuccessful real estate investments.
Symington was then ordered to sell off his personal belongings to appease creditors. That’s when Topalian was tapped to auction off his estate, one year later in 1997.
“They brought all of the things that were his to my house,” Topalian said. “Every night, I was on TV; the reporters would come and interview his estate.”
At the auction, Topalian recalled a prehistoric Native American pottery up for bid, which led to a group of Native Americans to picket and protest the event, claiming the pottery belonged to them.
“It was something,” she said. “When we were getting ready for the auction, we were in the paper every day. But when we had the auction, the nicest thing happened.”
“The first thing we wanted to auction off was that pot, and so the Indian chief, [Vernon Foster of the American Indian Movement], he got up and bid $1. One of my customers got up and says, ‘I’ll pay $1,000.’ So naturally he got it, and he walked over and handed it to the chief.”
The Symington auction raised $19,000.
Topalian’s experience working with the Cooper family was nothing short of memorable, as well.
“He was moving to Chicago with his wife and kids. He was really nice – nothing like he portrays,” Topalian said. “He’s such a gentleman, and he gave my kids gifts, like movie posters.”
While Topalian said meeting famous people is the highlight of her career, she does admit that it’s an emotionally taxing job.
“I care a lot. I put myself in their shoes. I have a lot of empathy, especially with the decedent’s because they feel they’ve trusted me with their stuff and taking care of their things,” she said. “I’d find a lot of things – treasures that they have and money – and always turn it in.”
One particular client had Topalian nearly in tears.
“There was a man in Michigan when I was still working there, and he was so sweet, and he was all alone and I was going there every day. I was bringing home his laundry in my house. I felt so sorry for him,” she recalled.
Currently, most of Topalian’s clients are located in Scottsdale; however, estate sales aren’t nearly as popular today as they once were.
“In those days, there was good money. Today, it’s awful,” she said.
Topalian, who saw a drop-off in estate sales about two years ago, attributes the decline to online retailers and resellers.
“The minute ebay opened up and all these different auction houses people, they just would rather go online,” she said. “The secondary market is hard to sell furniture. The young people today, they don’t like this beautiful, old antique furniture. They want to go to Ikea.”
One of the few antiques that have increased in value, however, is Tiffany lamps.
Authentic Tiffany lamps were made in the 1890s to 1930s by Tiffany Studios, owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The lamps, which have a bronze base, high-quality glass made in New York, and stamped with “Tiffany Studios New York,” are worth anywhere from $4,000 to more than $1 million.
“I used to deal with real Tiffany lamps in Michigan. If I just had one today, I could retire,” Topalian said with a laugh. “I bought one for $300; my husband almost had a nervous breakdown and said, ‘It’s going to be hard eating glass.’”
In fact, Topalian founded her business because her sister gave her a Tiffany lamp.
“I was really sick, and my sister flew in to take care of me. She brought this old, little Tiffany lamp, and it grew on me. I told my brother, ‘We should start collecting these antique lamps.’ Well, we graduated from just any old lamp that wasn’t Tiffany, stained glass ones, to the real McCoy. And it was because of my sister,” she said.
Topalian’s team, currently comprised of six people, has more than 85 years of combined professional experience in the appraisal of antiques, fine art, personal property, and estate liquidation.
Topalian’s most recent estate sale was held Nov. 2 in Scottsdale.
“I love it,” Topalian said of her work. “It’s not as lucrative financially as it used to be because of the internet, but people still love to come to them. We always get a big crowd.”
For upcoming sales: visit ginisale.com.