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It’s Time To Clear Out the Black Hole

SANTA FE, N.M. — On his deathbed, Barbara Grothus recalls, her father told her, “Get rid of everything — all the buildings, all the boxes. It’s too much.”

More than three years later, the family is trying to do just that.

The Black Hole, which has sucked in much of the detritus from Los Alamos National Laboratory since the 1950s, is closing.

When? As soon as the heirs can find a home for an estimated 400,000-500,000 pounds of stuff, about seven or eight semi-trucks’ worth, according to Grothus. “By the time it’s winter,” she said.

Known by many as Los Alamos’ icon of eccentricity, The Black Hole (officially known as the Los Alamos Sales Co.) was started in 1953 by Ed Grothus, who worked as a machinist at the lab and gathered much of the surplus and obsolete goods that it sold off.

Grothus, who became an anti-nuclear activist and died on Feb. 12, 2009, gave the business, located since the 1970s on the site of an old grocery store, its nickname because “everything goes in and nothing comes out.” His grown children, who continued operating the business until now, are diligently trying to buck that trend.

“We have an enormous amount of stuff to clear out,” said Barbara Grothus, who lives in Albuquerque and is president of the business. “We want people to take away truckloads, as much as they can carry, for cheap.”

The official closeout sale is scheduled at the property, 4015 Arkansas Ave., from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sept. 21-23.

More information will be available, including details on items for sale, at www.blackholesurplus.com.

There was a burst of customers at the site for a period after her father’s death, she said, but it has petered out to dribs and drabs since then. “It’s just too much to manage it,” Grothus said. “You can’t pay people to work in this terrible environment. The roof leaks. In winter, it’s cold …”

“It’s fallen into increasing disarray after my father died,” she said, noting that while he knew what the items were and how to organize them, no one else does.

“My dad worked there every day … He loved to entertain people, to talk to people. If they had questions, he could say what (an item) was and how to use it.

“He was a showman. We don’t have anybody to do that anymore,” she said.

After her mother, Margaret Grothus, died this March, the family decided to buckle down to the task of selling the goods and finding another use for the property. “We’ve got everything from piles of rocks, trailers, a modular home, trucks, plastics — everything,” Grothus said.

While she had mentioned after her father’s death the possibility of turning an old church on the property into a museum, Grothus now says that’s not going to work out. “We may keep a few things we want to display, but the family does not really have the capacity to keep a museum on our own,” she said. “I think the plan is to try to sell the property, ultimately.”

She has been mulling the possibility of doing something with the family home, now empty, which she said was the first adobe house built in Los Alamos.

Grothus threw around the ideas of a bed and breakfast, or an event center, but said that would depend on what the neighborhood was willing to accept.

In the meantime, The Black Hole will disappear into history.

“It’s really just time,” Grothus said.

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