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On Second Thought

The auctioneer’s gavel will signal the official end of The Fours

Peter Colton, owner of The Fours on Canal Street, is auctioning off memorabilia from the Canal Street mainstay, including this selection of bats. The establishment has been forced to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peter Colton, owner of The Fours on Canal Street, is auctioning off memorabilia from the Canal Street mainstay, including this selection of bats. The establishment has been forced to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Larry Bird has been hauled down from the wall. The same for Bobby Orr, Yaz, Ted, Ali, Liston, and all the other old, familiar faces.

Their time at The Fours is over, and like all the prized memorabilia inside the city’s best-known sports bar, the pictures and other paraphernalia related to those legends are headed off to the auction block.

“I never thought I would see this day, that it would come down to this,” said Fours co-owner Peter Colton, who was busy Thursday morning at the famed, shuttered watering hole on Canal Street removing cherished artifacts from the eatery’s walls. “Never in my wildest dreams. Never even imagined it or thought it would come down to a situation like this.”

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The Fours made its final pour the night of Aug. 30, and abruptly, astonishingly informed customers the next day that its time had come. Cause of death: COVID-19. Lasting heartache for scores upon scores of faithful customers of 40-plus years.

The Fours lived off Garden events dating back to its opening in the mid ’70s, cultivating a clientele — fans and performers alike — that made it the place to be before and after Bruins and Celtics games, as well as rock shows, ice shows, and everything else that came and went across the way on Causeway Street.

Autographed copies of Ray Lussier's famous photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air after he scored the winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup are among the memorabilia items from the walls of The Fours that can be purchased in auction.
Autographed copies of Ray Lussier's famous photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air after he scored the winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup are among the memorabilia items from the walls of The Fours that can be purchased in auction.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The pandemic forced the NBA and the NHL to shut down at the start of March, and the financial impact was severe on all the bars, eateries, and hotels throughout the old West End. The Fours muddled through for about 5½ months, then reluctantly acquiesced to the hard truth of the profit/loss sheet. No customers. No money. No hope.

“We had to bite the bullet,” said Colton. “You could see it every day working here, looking outside . . . seeing nobody around . . . no one working . . . no games. And bottom line is, if there are no games, and people aren’t allowed to go to games, or don’t want to go . . . well, that’s why we’re here, right?

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"For fans to go to the games, that’s the way we were built, the way we operated, living off the Boston Garden, basically.”

According to Colton, The Fours’s rich treasure trove of sports artifacts will be listed imminently for an online auction, and bidding will end across two days, Dec. 2-3.

The Paul Saperstein auction house will start listing the goods, more than 1,200 items in total, on its website (pesco.com) in the next two weeks. Those interested will be able to view the goods online and begin bidding immediately, said Michael Saperstein, and a live viewing for friends and bidders will be staged inside The Fours on Canal Street on Nov. 30 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Dec. 1 (noon-8 p.m.).

Note to my brothers and sisters in the media: Look for me somewhere between the classic shot of Gerry Cheevers, standing amid the stick-and-glove litter after a Garden donnybrook, and whatever is left of the bar’s bourbon collection. If that sounds like I take this loss personally, fine, pour me a double.

“If the crowd’s too big, we’ll control the flow — masks, social distancing, all that,” said Saperstein, noting that he expects huge interest in the goods. “We want to treat this whole thing — auction, pre-auction, all of it — with the great respect and reverence The Fours and their customers deserve.”

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You can take one more trip to The Fours when the establishment will holds a live viewing of auction items later this month.
You can take one more trip to The Fours when the establishment will holds a live viewing of auction items later this month.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Bruins and Celtics will come back eventually, and the old West End will stir back to life, thrive once more. Until then, we’re left with our memories of great games, of legends (“We love ya, Cooz!”), of first visits to the Garden, friendships made, the pungent smell of the circus and the ear-piercing screech of a Green Line trolley as it navigated the rusty elevated track arched over Causeway.

In the days after locking the doors, Colton heard from a few would-be investors, reaching out in hopes of keeping the joint alive. The interest was sincere, he said, and with no guidebook on hand to navigate the devastating business realities of pandemic, he was initially hopeful.

But September turned into October, October into November, and November into what remains a financial abyss for many businesses around the Garden and across the country.

“They all said they loved the place, wanted to keep the memories alive, they had the money,” said Colton. “But eventually it was thanks, but no thanks.

"I get it. It just looks like there’s no end to it. The [COVID] numbers are only going up. It gets bleaker and bleaker.”

11-05-20:  Peter Colton, the owner of The Fours on Canal Street, walks through the second floor of the bar/restaurant on Thursday. The COVID-19 pandemic forced owners to shutter the establishment after traffic around TD Garden dropped.
11-05-20: Peter Colton, the owner of The Fours on Canal Street, walks through the second floor of the bar/restaurant on Thursday. The COVID-19 pandemic forced owners to shutter the establishment after traffic around TD Garden dropped.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Unlike fans, businesses can’t survive on memories. Memories can be held ad infinitum free of charge. There really is only hurt amid a pandemic. The protracted down time, our sports in mothballs, has provided ample opportunity for some of us perhaps to think back about what we’ve loved about following our teams, going to games, devouring the moments, including stops at a favorite haunt like The Fours.

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Colton decided to keep only a couple of artifacts for himself. One was a small signed piece sent to him recently by Bert Jones, former quarterback of the Colts and Rams.

“When I was a kid, I thought he was the best,” he said.

The other was a well-known Norman Rockwell print, signed by Brooks Robinson, that depicts the Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman signing autographs.

“Brooks was my hero,” said Colton, a flashback to his childhood lightening up the somber duties of prepping for the auction. “I wore No. 5 all through Little League because of him, and our team was the Orioles.

"Such great Baltimore teams. It was a good time, the ’60s, to be a kid and loving baseball.”

Jones and Robinson proved too personal to let go. So, too, was The Fours, where Colton began work in 1988. But while there’s equity to be had in memories, it takes whiskey, and maybe a “Bobby Orr” sandwich, to pay the bills.

“I look around, see all this stuff, and try to separate myself a little from it all,” said Colton, helping to catalog pictures, balls, bats for auction. “Yeah, it’s hard, but it has to be done. The emotions . . . the enormity of it . . . time to go, I guess, but it’s not easy.”

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The Fours still has two locations open, in Norwell and Quincy, but the Canal Street mainstay is done.
The Fours still has two locations open, in Norwell and Quincy, but the Canal Street mainstay is done.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.