We've been open 2 1/2 years. In that time, I have acquired smallwares and equipment from four separate local food service establishments that went out of business. In fact, 95% of everything in the shop, excluding food products and our cookbooks, was previously owned.
First there was the independent sandwich shop. It was closed and the building bought by a franchise. The franchise owners insisted that all the equipment for the new establishment be, well, new. That meant that everything from perfectly good sheet pans to ovens, display cases, ice machine, sinks and refrigerators, had to be sold. Good for us, as everything worked and we paid about 20 cents on the dollar. Just about all of it still works, and I have invested reasonably little in repairs on the used equipment.
Then there was the small caterer - a very nice elderly (much older than me...) lady and her husband. She had arthritis and just could not "do it any more." From them we acquired a refrigerator, some pans and bowls, and lots of cake boxes and other packaging. It was all a pretty good deal, and I learned the art of bulk buying. That's when you stack up all the smaller "stuff" you want and negotiate a price for the lot. It sure beats counting boxes and pans. The only purchase I regret were boxes of round gift tins which take up space and we have never used. I prefer square tins which can be tied easily with a ribbon.
Then the German Bakery closed. As I understand it, there were two partners. One wanted out and the other could not afford to buy him out, so the business was liquidated. Good reason never to have a partner. We got our sheeter from them. Less than 20 cents on the dollar for a piece of equipment that costs over $30K new. Of course it was nowhere near new, but as they say "they don't make them like they used to." And this one was made "like they used to." We also bought lots of specialty pastry tools (the shop was run by a master baker and pastry chef), chocolate, and more packaging. More bulk buying, and I am starting to see a trend - most of these businesses had way more small stuff than they could possibly use. We still have most of the 10,000 (yep!!) cupcake papers. Good thing we also bought the over-sized cupcake pans that they go with. I make a mental note to be careful only to buy what we really need or can reasonably use.
Then yesterday I got a call from another caterer. He was selling everything, was I interested in coming by? It's like getting invited to a private garage sale. Of course I was interested. I brought another caterer with me, mainly because I knew that most of the stuff he had would be more interesting to a caterer than a bakery. The (now "former") caterer was offering everything at 5 cents on the dollar. It was kind of pathetic. While I know it was his own fault he was going out of business (like it would be my fault if it happened to me), I could not help feeling sorry for him. Here was his life's dream spread out for sale at bargain prices.
I picked out things I really needed. Cake decorating supplies, packaging, sheet pans, pans, bowls and other smallwares. I had to use a flashlight to navigate his shop because the lights had been turned off by the power company for non-payment. I did a mental calculation and offered a very fair 20 cents on the dollar, which he accepted immediately.
On the way back to the shop with my goodies, my (still in business) caterer friend said "you were pretty generous, he probably would have taken half."
Yeah, well, what goes around comes around. I hope I am never in his position and I want to be able to sleep at night.
Lesson learned: Be fair, but don't be greedy. And never rejoice on someone else's misery. What goes around comes around.