More coming out for Cape-area storage unit auctions

Thursday, November 10, 2011

They're hoping to get rich or die buying. A dozen people crowded around as the door of a mini storage unit rolled up, revealing a big-screen TV, a freezer, a jumble of furniture, bags of Christmas decorations and an assortment of boxes. The bidding for unit 425 at U Store & Lock It in Cape Girardeau started at just $50 Wednesday morning, but the price quickly climbed.

For a sum of $725, Terry Johnston of Scott City had the winning bid. Just what he got for that sum, he isn't sure.

Since the A&E network television show "Storage Wars" started last year, following four professional buyers as they scour repossessed storage units in search of hidden treasures, local storage unit auctions have grown in popularity, said Alberta Gwin of The Rhodes Group, owners of U Store & Lock It.

Every two or three months, the company will auction the contents of a handful of units with unpaid rent. The company identifies units that are the furthest behind on rent and flags them for auction. They send a certified letter to the unit renter notifying them that they have 15 days to pay the back rent or the unit will be auctioned. The company also prints a public notice about the auction.

"Unlike the TV show, we have nice calm auctions. There's not a lot of drama," Gwin said.

The auctions are attracting a group of regular buyers and some first-timers, who say they saw the TV show and decided to give it a try.

"I just like to watch it on television and thought it was fun," said Mike Rhodes of Whitewater, who recently started attending the storage auctions. He brings a flashlight to get a better look at what is inside when the lock is cut and the door opens. He keeps an eye out for fishing and other sporting goods equipment.

"You never know what you're going to find. One time, they opened the door and somebody was living in it," Rhodes said. "All that was in there was an air mattress, a heater and an extension cord."

He has yet to find anything of real value in any of the units he's purchased.

"Some people do, but I haven't got one yet," he said.

Johnston, who bought unit 425 Wednesday, has been going to storage unit auctions since before the popular television show. He said he typically sells the items to friends or at his yard sales. He usually donates the clothes to thrift stores.

His best find to date was discovering $495 worth of gold jewelry in a storage unit he paid $500 for.

Gary Huffman, owner of Chaffee Auction, goes to about three storage unit auctions a month, including some in St. Louis. For 11 years, he's been sorting through the remains inside unpaid storage units. On Wednesday, he paid $30 for the contents of one.

"It's $30 worth of a gamble, but really, what's $30 nowadays? Not much," he said. "You'll usually end up throwing about half of what's in it away."

Units with older items and antiques are hard to come by but can be valuable, he said.

"The better units are when you find one with grandma and grandpa's old stuff in it," Huffman said.

He's also noticed a surge in bidders since "Storage Wars" became popular.

"It's a lot of fun, but if they think they're going to make a living at it, they better stay where they are at," he said.


Pertinent address:

2301 Bloomfield Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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