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Pieces of the Grill: Duluth eatery's memorabilia auctioned off to pay back state

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

DULUTH -- Amid professional resellers and auction buffs, Lynda Alley raised her placard to keep what she could of the beloved Rexall Grill.

As the owner of the Rexall Drugs pharmacy and owner of the name and location of the attached grill, she was blind-sided last month to learn that the restaurant's owner had failed to pay state sales taxes since 2004.

With a tab of $250,000 doubling to $500,000 with fees and fines, former restaurant owner Gail Herrin will have to pay back much of the taxes herself, after Tuesday's auction netted less than $2,500.

In the next week or two, Alley hopes to reopen the establishment under her own business license, so she bought all the cans of food and bags of flour, along with the tables available at the auction.

Much of the furnishings, including the booths and the large kitchen equipment, Alley already owned, and she tried to grab some of the Coca-Cola memorabilia divided into lots to continue to decorate the Duluth landmark, which was open for 41 years.

"I'm OK," Alley said of the emotional day. "I'm just glad we got a lot of the food and things we need to reopen."

Herrin, who has not spoken publicly since the forced closure of the restaurant, left a note of apology on the door.

"I truly am sorry for the things I have done wrong and I hope and pray that everybody can forgive me. I love this community and I am so thankful for the customers I have had over the years," it read.

Billy Jones, a Duluth city councilman, was one of 38 bidders Tuesday. He said he hoped to purchase some of the photographs to take to the Duluth Historical Society and a few Coke bottles, although he was outbid until a few lots at the end of the auctions.

"Some of this stuff is Duluth memorabilia. It's not just Rexall," he said. "I'd like to pick some of it up to keep it in town."

Norman Barber, a Rexall regular who got into a few bidding wars with old friends, said the grill has done so much good for the community that it outweighed the recent controversy.

"Several people said to come and bid for something to remember it by," he said. "I like a deal, and I like Coca-Cola stuff too because it's so familiar with Atlanta. ... But it's a shame to see this."

While the sign had been moved, the Rexall featured a daily Bible verse Tuesday. On the day the familiar decorations of the Duluth landmark were auctioned, the message was from the book of Revelation and harkened to a return to grace.

"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty."