Published on May 12, 2012
Alonzo Barry, manager of Metro Self-Storage locations, motions to a bidder during a storage unit auction at the Topsail Road location. — Photos by Tobias Romaniuk/The Telegram
Published on May 12, 2012
Bill Whitty pops the lock on a unit at the Topsail Road facility. The storage company doesn’t look at units before the auction begins. The lock is put on by the customer whose contents are inside.
Published on May 12, 2012
Dave Janes inspects a watch, one of the many items inside a storage locker, after placing the highest bid during the auction at Metro Self-Storage’s Topsail Road location.
About 50 people are gathered in the Metro Self-Storage yard on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl, standing in a circle and listening to manager Alonzo Barry.
“I’ve got 200. Do I hear two-twenty? Two-twenty, two-twenty. I’ve got two-twenty. Can I get two-forty?”
This is about as close as Newfoundlanders will get to the popular television show “Storage Wars” without leaving the island.
The bidding stops at $240, and the winning bidder is told to step forward to give his name, as Barry heads towards the next unit.
There are seven units to be auctioned off today, and Barry keeps the crowd moving through a pattern of look, bid, move, repeat.
“It’s exactly like ‘Storage Wars,’ basically, except we’ve been doing it long before the show came out,” he said, talking with The Telegram before the auction.
Back in the yard, the auction is in full swing, with Barry doing his best impression of an auctioneer, pointing and talking fast as he tries to get the price up.
Cory Tock has just won a locker with a top bid of $240, and he steps away from the crowd to talk about what he saw among the boxes and miscellaneous items that caught his attention.
“The only reason I bought it is because it looks like there’s a lot of dive equipment in it … that’s what I gambled on,” he said.
And it was definitely a bit of a gamble, with most of the gear inside boxes he wasn’t allowed to look in.
While it’s possible there’s diving gear in the boxes, it’s also possible that he just paid $240 for boxes of garbage.
“If it is the dive equipment, it’s worth several thousand,” he said, before falling in with the crowd to see the next locker.
The popularity of the television show has helped increase the popularity of the auctions to the point that Barry had to implement a $10 registration fee in an attempt to turn away some who came just for a look.
Curiosity can be a powerful thing, and some people, like first time auction-goer Paul Buckingham, are here just to see what it’s all about.
He was told about the auction when he went to Metro Self-Storage with a friend who was renting a unit.
“I thought sure, I’ll give it a try.”
He has a pocketful of bills — but not too many — and he’s keeping an open mind about what he might find.
“You’re always looking for stuff.” he said.
Among the curious and the curio-seekers might even be a few owners of the lockers being auctioned off.
While the locker contents belong to the winning bidder once they’re paid for, there are certain rules that both the storage company and the buyer must abide by in order to give the original owners of the goods a chance to claim their stuff, Barry said.
“It has to go 90 days, then we follow what’s called a warehousers lien act.”
The company must first publish the name for two weeks (usually in The Telegram), then send a registered letter two weeks before the auction is to take place.
Once that is done, people can still pay the amount owing and reclaim the locker’s contents. Barry gives people until 5 p.m. Friday, with auctions being held on Sundays.
Aside from the legalities, there are rules of good taste that Barry urges buyers to adhere to, including returning any personal items — like family photographs — to the company so that they can be returned to the original owner.
Some people choose not to pay off their debt, instead opting to show up at the auction and try their luck at bidding on their own locker.
It’s within the rules, and Barry doesn’t mind. At least he’s getting some of the money owed to him.
“They want their stuff back, and also, obviously, we want our money,” he said.
The person may bid on it and win, but they still owe the storage company the money. Any money paid to win an auction by the unit owner is then put against their debt.
Certain things can’t be sold
Meanwhile, the auction-goers are slowly filing past an orange door in a narrow hallway, looking into a unit with a frontloading washer and dryer in the back corner, and a suede leather recliner among children’s wagons and outside playthings.
Other units have barbecues, home furnishings and even a decorative outdoor lamp post.
In previous auctions, Barry has sold snowblowers and bikes. But there are a few things he can’t sell.
Vehicles are off limits because Barry isn’t the registered owner of the vehicle, therefore he can’t sell it. Guns are also off-limits, and if Barry finds either of the two, he’ll usually just close up the unit and move on.
He also adheres to the no-touching rule, and doesn’t inspect the lockers before the auction starts.
When the lock is popped, Barry and auction-goers are seeing the goods for the first time, he said.
As for what he can’t see, well, he has no control over that.
If a firearm or an ATV are hidden under other items, the responsibility of doing the right thing then falls to the new owner of the locker’s contents, he said.
The selling prices vary widely.
“It varies, but since the television show has started, I mean, I’ve gotten in excess of $1,200 for a unit, all the way down to $60.”
For some people, an auction on a Sunday morning is a great way to spend the day, with the possibility of making a few bucks out of it, too.
There’s a core group of about 20 regulars, said Barry.
One person bought three units at the last auction.
He’s here today, and already has a lock on one unit, with an eye to possibly buying another.
While he wasn’t too keen on having his name shared, he didn’t mind talking about his Sunday morning pastime.
“This is just recreation on the weekends,” he said.
It’s turning into a lucrative hobby. Those three units he bought at the last auction earned him a $3,000 profit on a $900 investment.
So what does $900 buy you at a storage unit auction?
“Everything you can imagine. A whole household in one unit, leather couches, fireplace,” he said, noting one bike alone earned him $1,200.
Before a dollar can be made, it helps to know where to sell items.
Websites like Kijiji.ca and NLclassifieds.com are popular, and auction veteran Phonse Miller, who has been going to auctions of all types for over a decade, has brought things to Fitzpatrick’s Auction to sell.
Miller raises an important point about the value of items featured on shows like “Storage Wars.” Until an item is sold, it’s worthless, he said.
For him, it’s not about the sale so much as the search.
“It’s a bit of a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find. And it’s not usually stuff that you’re looking for or stuff you want.”
When the auction finishes, Miller will lay claim to two of the seven units sold.
As the empty-handed drift away into the parking lot and the successful bidders “pay the lady,” Dave Tock returns to his unit to see if there really was diving equipment in those boxes.
Instead, the boxes contain tattoo equipment, including a sterilizer, inks, guns and books. It’s worth a couple of thousand dollars, he guesses.
There are some diving-related items in the locker, though, like a knife that retails for $250 — $10 more than Tock paid for the unit.
As for Miller, he was still searching the contents of his new locker, “still looking for the gold,” he says.
He’s not disappointed.
“It’s worth at least twice what we paid for it,” he said.
If he can find a buyer, that is. And he’s already searching for potential customers.
“Chances are we’ll sell it all. Want to buy a vintage laptop?”