The campaign was waged in drizzling rain and with no promise of reward
  • The campaign was waged in drizzling rain and with no promise of reward
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Every month or so, local storage-unit facilities play their own version of the TV show Storage Wars — past-due units auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Such was the case last week with three San Marcos locations of Stor’em Self Storage. Twenty or so bidders faced the drizzling rain to bid on everything from trash to a 10´ x 20´ unit packed floor-to-ceiling.

“Anyone can show up to bid,” said Stor’em’s Cristina, who helped manage the auctions. If one is the winner, they pay cash at the end of the auction, plus a $40 cleaning deposit. A winning bidder has 48 hours to clean out the unit.

José from San Diego said most of the bidders were “regulars.” Most of the people in the group were skeptical to talk to a reporter, saying they wouldn’t want any more people showing up to future auctions.

Ken Ritch

Ken Ritch

The fast-talking auctioneer, Ken Ritch, owner of West Coast Auctions of Vista, suggested I not take photos of the bidders. “They don’t want someone showing up at their house demanding their stuff back,” said Ritch.

Ritch was a featured auctioneer on Spike TV’s Auction Hunters (similar to A&E’s Storage Wars). “I’m told I’m like a rock star in Nicaragua,” said Ritch, where the show airs regularly.

The bidders’ reluctance for publicity is understandable, as it was suggested that bidders might be part of the underground economy, selling stuff for cash at swap meets and on Craigslist.

The first two units — broken dressers and old mattresses — didn’t sell, not even for one dollar. “They [the renter] took the good stuff and then stopped paying,” said José. Cristina said the unsold units would have everything thrown away by her staff or she’ll call the Salvation Army.

Bidder Angelo, from Carlsbad, invited me to shadow him through the auctions, giving tips along the way and then going through the 5´ x 5´ unit he purchased for $80.

“I do this for fun. I’m curious and I get bored sometimes,” said Angelo, a contractor by trade.

The largest unit up for bid was 10´ x 20´, filled with tools, furniture, and boxes of unknown stuff. Angelo wasn’t interested. “These units are too big,” said Angelo when it sold for $2800. “Now this guy has to rent a truck, get a crew to clean it out, store it somewhere as he goes through it, haul the junk to the dump, and then figure how he’s going to sell the rest.”

The most Angelo has spent on a unit auction? “$9,600. It was all old comic books,” he said. He kept the ones he wanted for his collection and made a profit on the rest.

Angelo considers it successful when he makes three times his money back, which covers his time going through boxes and listing items on Amazon or eBay. “Some guys open stores. Or go to Kobey’s [swap meet].”

I noticed how Angelo would bid. He didn’t run up the price by competing with other bidders. He held back, waiting for others to lose interest and drop out, and then he’d slam a higher-than-asked-for bid.

On this day, most units at the Stor’em auctions went for $200–$400.

Back at his won locker, we found numerous boxes of neatly folded clothes and an older person’s knickknacks — worthless to him, but he said he’ll donate them to a charity thrift store.

However, Angelo got his money back and more. He opened three large boxes, each with six packages of unopened, 18-count, adult diapers. “These are $20 each on Amazon,” he said. Combined with a welding helmet and a box of classic Xbox video games (in high demand by collectors), Angelo felt he'd had a good day.

Then his phone rang. It was his wife asking, “What are you doing?” He put her on hold and told me, “I don’t like the way she asked that. She obviously knows I’m not at the office, so knows I’m either at the casino or an auction,” said Angelo, indicating he wasn’t supposed to be at either.

Footnote: Storage-unit auction dates are published in the Legal Notice section of local newspapers; however, many renters pay up at the last minute and some auctions are canceled. Most of the regulars at the Stor’em auctions said they believed the expensive items found in storage units on A&E’s Storage Wars were planted. Auctions don’t offer a chance to get rich quick, they agreed.

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