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    Auction Finds

    Inside a local ‘Storage Wars’

    The man was tailor-made for a Philadelphia version of A&E’s “Storage Wars.” He was a big burly guy with a belly that protruded beneath his blue pullover rather than hung over his belt (at one point, another auction-goer jokingly patted it).

    He was loud, forceful, persistent and intimidating – most times in a playing-the-dozens sort of way. One woman out-bidded him on a storage locker of printers and computer equipment – who knows how old the stuff was or if it worked. He relentlessly called her names, questioned her femininity and seemed astounded that she had the nerve to force up his bid. She quietly and nonchalantly listened, finally dismissing him as being less than sober.

    The hallways were narrow and only slightly bright in the storage building.

    He was among the first to get a peek inside each storage locker – we could only crane our necks for a quick look – and immediately tossed out a $10 bid before others had gotten their peek. The few times he was at the back of the line, he shouted for us to move on when the line slowed down.

    He got so annoying with the woman – well, another man also was cussing at a bidder over some slight – that Rodney the auctioneer admonished people to be civil or he’d ask them to leave. Rodney’s a gentle soul, and when he politely tells you to stop the mess, you listen. And that’s exactly what Mr. loud & boisterous did.

    He was that kind of buyer and it was that kind of day. But in the end, it was all fun in this my first full auction of storage units. I had been to another a week ago, but there was only one locker up for bid and it contained lumber and building materials. It was over in five minutes. I had no interest in the items, and to be honest, I’m not so keen on buying stuff I can’t see or touch.

    Jarrod and Brandi Passante in a photo from A&E's "Storage Wars" website. Very few of the units at the auction I attended had this much stuff.

    The storage company originally had about 100 lockers ready for today’s auction, but the number had dropped to 34. Apparently, a lot of renters didn’t want to lose their stuff and paid their bills. At least one person chose a different route: “Someone took what they wanted,” one auction-goer observed at a unit where a space had been left bare by someone who seemed to have cleared out their good stuff before we – the scavengers – converged on it.

    The auction came with rules: Every buyer had to fork over $100 in cash per locker right after buying it. There was a 10 percent premium on each sale. Personal papers, documents, bills and photos found in the lockers had to be handed over to the office. Buyers had 24 hours to clean out the units.

    The auction ran for about 2 ½ hours, with units on each of the four floors of the building. There were about 25 of us – mostly men – trudging down a maze of narrow alleyways lined on both sides with light-blue painted units and unpainted aluminum ones.

    These were people who seemed to know each other, because the banter was ongoing and mostly lighthearted. Although someone mentioned that there were no friends at auction, no one here was as cutthroat as the folks on the TV show. They out-bidded each other but no one seemed to be trying to skewer someone else.

    Barry Weiss of A&E's "Storage Wars."

    A handful of guys voiced their annoyance at latecomers who were allowed to bid – a complaint which I found silly (although I understood: fewer people maximizes your chances of getting what you want at a ridiculously low price). At the auctions I go to, we all sometimes arrive late, no big deal.

    At each unit, a company rep opened the lock with a key, and we each got a chance to peek inside. Some shone flashlights to lighten up the dark spaces, but much of what I saw wasn’t good stuff. The highest prices paid were $450 and $590 for two separate units stuffed right up to the door. Most went for far less than that.

    There were sofas; tables; chairs, old worn mattresses that I wouldn’t want to touch, much less sleep on; used clean mattresses; air conditioners; old analog TVs with the large backsides, children’s toys. I even saw an unopened box of what looked like bran cereal on the floor of one unit, and another auction-goer and I smelled mothballs in another area where a whirlpool bathtub was sold (for around $170 and bought by Mr. loud & boisterous). Every one of the lockers seemed to have black plastic garbage bags, which were like the signature suitcases of storage units.

    Storage units similar to the ones at the auction I attended. Photo by MACSD.

    After a while, the auction felt more drudgery than fun. But the best – or worse – came at the end. The granddaddy of the spaces was a warehouse-size room that looked like a landfill – with enough stuff to sell “for the next two years,” Rodney noted. The items were huge and bulky and the boxes plentiful – anything you could imagine, including an old spinet piano. Stacked almost floor to ceiling, these were apparently leftovers from some units; Rodney said it was stuff that had come from a moving company.

    Only one person was brave enough to bid on this train wreck of a room. He bidded $1,000 and was given a month to clean it out. Good luck.

    If you’re interested in finding storage-unit auctions near you, check out AuctionZip. The site Urbanpackrat offered some ideas and a lot more on storage lockers.


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