Selling the Camel

National Content Liquidators, the company that’s helping the Sahara’s owners turn the old joint into an empty shell, has disposed of the contents of more than 300,000 hotel rooms in the past half century. Donald Hayes, the president of NCL, does about eight big hotel liquidation sales a year. For the buyers, these sales mean bargains and memories. For liquidation specialists such as Hayes, they mean helping property owners squeeze the last drops from the orange.

Liquidations are a complicated business—a strange mix of military precision and chaotic free-for-all. Every item that can be carried or hauled away in the hotel, from the soup bowls to the escalators, was inventoried and priced, a process that took more than three weeks.

At the Sahara, NCL put 600,000 items for sale, from camel-base lamps ($150; they were the most consistently pilfered item from hotel rooms) to the wooden doors from the House of Lords restaurant ($825). The two-month liquidation sale is open to the public; for its first four days, NCL levied a $10 entrance fee to help keep the crowds manageable, but since then there’s been no charge to browse and enjoy the Rat-Pack-meets-flea market ambience.

Some of the merchandise makes sense only for industry buyers—most homes don’t need an industrial dishwasher. But there are bargains to be had for the general public, which Hayes estimates will make up 70 percent of his buyers. In addition to picking out items from a “boutique” set up on the former slot floor, customers have access to the hotel towers.

One of the cashiers at the big sell-off is Kim Whitney, who started at the Sahara in August 1975 and worked throughout the hotel, from managing the front desk to parking cars. Now she’s ringing up lamps and sherry glasses as the casino where she spent much of her life comes apart, piece by piece.

“I came back to see it through to the end,” she says. “And it’s a chance for me to see some of my coworkers again. I know they’ll be coming through to pick up some things.”

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