The first time George Walls closed his bakery, he couldn't stay away. The second and final time, he couldn't bear to watch.
So Walls was not there on Thursday when the equipment and fixtures of his Waldorf landmark were sold at auction.
"I didn't want to see that," Walls said from his home in Southern Virginia. "It took 35 years to put everything together, only to see it all dismantled in three to four days."
Walls Bakery, on Route 301, is housed in an eye-catching tepee structure that was once the home of a gambling hall and nightclub known as the Wigwam. The bakery has been both a familiar sight and a destination for many in Southern Maryland and from across a large part of the Washington region since 1970.
After more than 30 years of selling "The World's Best Eclairs," Walls, his wife, Christa, and their three children closed up shop for the first time in 2001. They wanted to get away from the early-morning starts and the six-day workweeks. But the Wallses' retirement lasted only about two months before they decided they couldn't stand life without the business and reopened it.
Walls, now in his mid-70s, said the area's increasingly frantic lifestyle made motorists more reluctant to stop in recent years. And he closed for good in March after property taxes shot up because of new assessments.
On Thursday, the bakery and souvenir shop filled again with regulars and people just looking for bargains as the remaining kitchen equipment, display cases and decor items were offered for auction. One case up for bid still displayed stickers offering Danishes for 75 cents and doughnuts for $4.75 a dozen.
Frank Cacciavillani, owner of Santa Lucia Restaurant in District Heights, visited the bakery often but came on this day hoping to pick up another deli slicer. He said that even as the area changed drastically over the years, the bakery could be counted on for its high-quality products and service.
Christine Walls, one of George Walls's daughters who worked at the bakery for 35 years, watched as the old mementos of the business were sold off, one by one. A tall blue, green and yellow music-playing chewing gum dispenser with a Rube Goldberg-like delivery mechanism and a zany "Wowie Zowie" sticker on the top went for about $150. She said her family probably paid about $1,000 for it.
"It doesn't matter how much we get for it, as long as it's gone," Christine said dolefully. "We don't want to take this stuff with us."
Willie Valentine, 62, of Brandywine knew the place before it was Walls. He used to sell roast beef here as an 18-year-old when it was a restaurant. He has shopped at the bakery for the last 25 years, which he said probably has something to do with the extra 25 pounds he's carrying.
The future of the site has become the subject of speculation. The land was sold to Abdul Ayyad, who also owns Regency Furniture on Route 301, just north of the Prince George's County line. George Walls, however, still owns the Wigwam building and would prefer that the structure not be removed, but he said he would be willing to see it go for the right price.
Reached at his office, Ayyad declined to say whether he has a specific project planned for the site.
Coffee makers are marked with lot stickers for Thursday's auction at Walls Bakery. Above, the bidding is underway.
In December 2003, George Walls checks the temperature of a batch of fruitcake. He tried to shut down in 2001 but was back in business in months.
Frank Cacciavillani and his wife, Alba, who own Santa Lucia Restaurant in District Heights, were on the hunt for deli equipment at the auction.