Alex Cooper Auctioneers is still going strong after more than nine decades in business.
In 1924, when founding Alex Cooper Auctioneers on North Howard Street, Alex Cooper — a young immigrant from the Ukrainian town of Letichev — probably didn’t imagine the business would still be going strong 94 years later.
He also might have been surprised to know that Alex Cooper remains a family-owned and -operated business four generations later.
Today, three generations of Alex Cooper’s descendants work for the auction house, which specializes in real estate, antiques, fine art and rugs. Representing the second generation are Joseph Cooper, 84, and his wife, Annette, who still work for the company.
Their sons, Paul, Brian and Larry, and their cousin, Jon Levinson, are third-generation Alex Cooper employees, while Matt, Carley and Katie Cooper and Jamey Levinson represent the family’s fourth generation. Another third-generation family member and employee, Bruce Levinson, passed away six years ago.
The company has locations in Towson and Washington, D.C., but thanks to the Internet, Alex Cooper’s reach stretches well beyond the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, we’d have a room full of people for a gallery sale,” recalls Vice President Paul Cooper.
Nowadays, he says, many of Alex Cooper’s customers prefer to bid online.
“It’s all about convenience. The Internet and technology are transforming our business. Some older customers enjoy sitting here, but younger people don’t want to sit for six hours. In the fine arts area, 75 percent of our business is online. You can’t sit still. You have to move with the times.”
Paul, 60, gives his 34-year-old nephew, Matt Cooper, much of the credit for bringing Alex Cooper into the 21st century. Matt, who says he always knew he would enter the family business, admits it wasn’t always easy convincing his father and grandfather’s generations that moving much of the business online was a good idea.
“[Technology] was a large investment for us and it was a bit of a sell. But now that everyone sees the results, they’re ecstatic. And we’re only in the first inning,” he says.
In the past year, Alex Cooper launched a custom-designed online bidding platform for real estate. A similarly enhanced platform for bidding on fine art objects and antiques is scheduled to launch in the coming months.
“We just did a [real estate] auction for the D.C. government that was all online,” says Matt.
“It brought in $12.3 million. Over 1,000 people signed up to get information and over 300 registered to bid. That was sort of the coming-out party for the new platform. Since then, if there was any doubt, that’s been extinguished.”
Matt Cooper acknowledges that every business has “trials and tribulations.” Yet he believes Alex Cooper has avoided conflict between family members because they “are able to compartmentalize business and family life. It’s not that we don’t talk about business [outside of the workplace] but we try not to let things at work affect family relationships. I think we do a good job of that.”
Matt also is profoundly aware of the foundation that his ancestors have built and the mentorship they have provided. “I’m fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says.
Adds Paul Cooper: “I think a good business is like a good marriage. You need compromise and communication and you can’t have different agendas.”
For more information, visit alexcooper.com.