State auctions Rexall items to pay part of tax tab

Business was brisk Tuesday morning at Rexall Grill in Duluth, but the usual buzz of friendly chatter was replaced by the rhythmic chant of an auctioneer.

More than 35 people filled the Buford Highway restaurant to bid on hundreds of items up for sale, from Coca-Cola clocks and "Gone with the Wind" pictures to cake batter and maple syrup. The state auction was held to help collect some of the $500,336.60 that restaurant operator Gail Herrin owes in sales taxes and penalties.

On June 23, the Georgia Department of Revenue shut down the diner, with records showing Herrin had not paid taxes from January 2004 to October 2009.

Originally opened in 1968, Rexall Grill has been a perennial fixture and gathering spot in this Gwinnett County community of 26,o0o.

"This is sad, brother," Duluth resident Mike Jones, 27, said as he watched bidders raise their paddles for items piled on tables. "It's sad to watch such a great home-grown business become a relic."

But it won't be closed for long, said Lynda Alley, who has owned the building, the name and most of the equipment since 1998. On Tuesday, Alley bought much of the food and the plastic tables and chairs for about $830.

She plans to reopen and run the establishment herself July 15, once she obtains a business license, puts in a new grease trap and spruces up the place with paint. Already, 11 former employees have agreed to come back, and Herrin will return as co-manager, Alley said.

However, Herrin is "not going to have any handling of the money," Alley noted. "Once her husband died [in 1998], I think it just overwhelmed her."

Allen Johnson, an acting regional manager with the Department of Revenue, administered the two-hour auction that wrapped up just after noon. He would not say whether the state would garnish Herrin's wages or how it plans to recoup the remaining tab after the auction.

Early sales show the state was poised to collect a few thousand dollars on Tuesday. A Department of Revenue official would not reveal the amount, citing taxpayer privacy laws.

Before the auction, Pam Tuggle, 51, walked through the eatery in disbelief.

"It's been hard," said Tuggle, a weekly Rexall patron since high school. "This was the place for gatherings, meetings, lawyer advice, prayers, everything."

Alley, who fielded calls for five straight days after the closing, said she'll mark the reopening with fanfare, possibly offering patrons a free piece of Rexall's renowned chocolate cake or peach cobbler.

"Everybody is going to be ecstatic," she said. "I hope it'll be the same as it always was."