TV-show paydays draw bigger crowds to storage auctions
Earlier this month, Bill Miller went to an auction with $35 in his pocket and highlights of the previous week's episode of "Storage Wars" fresh in his mind.
Turns out, that's all he needed to luck into a $1,500 payday.
He's now a regular at storage auctions.
"It can be a hard life, but when things go your way, it ain't too bad," says Miller, who runs a consignment store in Century III Mall in West Mifflin, where he sells his storage-auction wares.
Area storage companies say they are seeing scores more customers at storage auctions than they had just a year ago. They credit the popularity of such reality shows as "Storage Wars," and "Pawn Stars" with turning anyone with big dreams and enough pocket cash to bid on abandoned storage units into amateur treasure seekers.
The shows, which premiered this past December and July 2009 respectively, focus on ordinary people who buy discarded, seemingly valueless items only to discover they've stumbled on something priceless.
A few years ago, Jim Barnett would have been lucky to get four people to come to his storage auctions, even after weeks of posting ads online and in the newspaper. These days, 25 to 30 people turn out regularly.
Larger auctions have been known to draw crowds of nearly 200.
"It has really taken off," says Barnett, who runs Shannon Storage in Castle Shannon.
Some people are just curious, rubbernecking "lookie loos" dying to see what other people have left behind and don't bid. Others buy units and sell the contents to antique stores or retail the items themselves as a side business.
Most episodes of "Storage Wars," "Pawn Stars" and similar reality shows often end with treasure seekers walking away with some valuable heirloom or artwork found tucked beneath piles of junk.
Experts say that's rarely the case.
Most times, what's left behind are things too big or heavy to carry. A lot of is just junk -- possessions that either are not worth keeping or too much trouble to throw away.
"In many cases, people take their most valuable stuff with them. They wouldn't leave it in storage," Barnett says.
Getting in the game
Miller attended his first auction in Youngstown, Ohio, in February after weeks of watching the shows. He spent $105 on a unit and came away with a modest haul of tools, clothes, small living-room furnishings and boxes bound by duct tape.
"There was nothing real good in it, but what I got was worth more than I paid," he says.
Last week, he bought the contents of a storage unit in Homestead for $35. Inside was a travel bag, a card table, a plastic tub, and some high-end shoes and purses. Catching his eye amid the mess was an unmarked bank envelope.
The envelope contained 15 $100 bills.
"I was so excited that ... on my way to the next auction after that, I forgot to get gas," Miller says with a chuckle. "I wasn't thinking right after that."
State law says a storage company can sell or auction a unit's belongings when the tenant falls at least 30 days behind on their bill, and the business has tried unsuccessfully to collect the rent for another 30 to 45 days.
Shellie and Josh McChesney are regulars who began bargain hunting at storage auctions two years ago, long before the show got hot.
The couple from Stowe got into a bidding war Thursday with Miller for a unit that once belonged to a man who fell several months behind on his storage bill when his home went into foreclosure.
Inside appeared to be an entire houseful of furniture and memories -- there was a sparkling red drum set, several mattresses and bed sets, rug rolls, even a mountain bike.
Bids started at $300, then climbed to $700. Then $1,100.
The McChesney's got to take the contents home after bidding $2,200.
"We've got way more competition now, that's for sure," says Shellie McChesney, 38.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Reliever Holdzkom among three players cut by Pirates
- Rolling Stones roll into Heinz Field June 20
- Pirates again approach Polanco about contract extension
- Former Pa. Gov. Corbett: From pension critic to collector
- Worker trapped in trench collapse in Butler County is freed
- Injuries to Penguins’ Ehrhoff, Letang force defense to pick up slack
- Five is enough for Penguins’ defensemen
- Reversing the field: Pirates continue to raid Yankees for hidden skill
- Laurel Mountain Ski Resort discusses planned revival
- Pgh. International leader strives to inject Pittsburgh flavor into airport
- Steelers’ Tomlin, Pirates’ Hurdle share similar philosophy