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Inside ‘The Great Waffle House Jukebox Auction’

The iconic machines go up for grabs

If you’ve been to a Waffle House lately, you might have noticed that something is different: The old analog jukeboxes have been swapped out for newfangled digital ones. Waffle House purists like me were sad to see them go—despite a newfound ability to subject fellow diners to obscure college fight songs at the touch of a screen. But earlier this month, with the email announcement of the first-ever Great Waffle House Jukebox Auction, I changed my tune: Now was my chance to fulfill a longtime dream and get a classic Waffle House jukebox of my very own.

I arrived at the Lawrenceville auction site more than an hour ahead of time to examine the thirty-three jukeboxes, stocked with music, up for sale. As the start of the auction drew closer, prospective buyers walked up and down the rows of inventory, jotting down notes: Scratched display. Looks cool. Too much country. Records only. Good tunes!

A thirtysomething man leaned on a table in the corner and scrolled through Craigslist on his phone to find the going rate for jukeboxes online. Across the room, a former Waffle House employee and mother of two young boys had done similar research and came hoping to find a companion for her family’s recently acquired vintage pinball machine.

Fox 5 news reporter George Franco, who moonlights as an auctioneer, served as emcee for the afternoon, managing the pool of fifty in-person and online bidders—including one from Australia—with the help of a team from Bullseye Auction Group.

In this case the seller was not Waffle House but Metro Distributors Inc., a family-owned outfit that manages and maintains the chain’s jukeboxes and security cameras. President Gaines Butler and his crew have been fixing up the old jukeboxes as they’ve been removed from restaurants. He recently sold a refurbished late-80s model, like some at the auction, for more than $1,800.

It’s unlikely anyone in this crowd would have sprung for that price. Certainly not the curmudgeon standing behind me, who grew more incredulous with every bid. “$600? That’s insanity!” he’d mutter. “That’s not worth more than $199!” But nothing went for quite that low, either; the winning bids ranged from $375 (a 1988 record-CD combo jukebox) to $700 (the lone all-CD jukebox, from 1996).

"My glass is always half full," said Butler. "I just say, well, this is a learning experience, we’ll keep on going.”

All of the jukeboxes were sold off in barely more than an hour. Among the winners were an area pastor buying one for himself and one for his youth group; a cabinet-maker from Hoschton who deals in vintage records on the side; two Buford couples who are next-door neighbors; the aforementioned mother of two, who lives in Morningside; a Suwanee couple vacationing on an Alaskan cruise (thanks to the Internet); and this twentysomething writer. Oh yeah.

In case you’re kicking yourself for missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, don’t fret: Butler says it might come around again over the holiday season.