When the Dugout Restaurant in Boston went out of business, the company's trustees and its major creditor, the Small Business Administration, held a public auction.

Because there were no bids for the whole package -- which included furniture, equipment, fixtures, and a liquor license -- the goods were auctioned off piecemeal. According to the SBA officer in charge of the liquidation, a cash register valued at $1,300 was sold for $400, and chairs, worth about $60 apiece, sold for only $20 each.

"A public auction provides an excellent opportunity for small businesses to obtain equipment, furnishings, even real estate or whole businesses," says the officer. Liquor stores, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and art galleries are typical of businesses that frequently come up on the auction block. To find out about auctions in your area, contact your SBA office.