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'Storage Wars' brings out bargain hunters willing to take a chance

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A diamond ring still in the jewelry box. Flat-screen TVs. Fishing tackle unopened in its original packaging.

Those are some of the finds during Brainerd’s version of the cable television sensation of “Storage Wars.” Several of the area storage facilities in and around Brainerd have occasion to auction off contents of abandoned units. But there has been a noticeable change since the television shows highlighted the auction experience.

“You can certainly find something that has great value and as a result more people — driven by the programs — are coming out if nothing else to gawk at it,” said General Rental owner Steve Mau. In the past, Mau said the auctions typically attracted about 40 people. Now Mau said last year and this year the auction attract more than 250 people.

At a recent auction of about a dozen units, Mau said two people who bought units found flat-screen televisions, fish locator and bench grinder. They paid $800 to $900 for the unit and saw a strong return, Mau said. The increased interest is also driving up the prices for units that might have been auctioned off for $300 to $500 previously. People in the antique business or second hand stores who are often attracted to estate sales used to be the main draw for storage unit auctions. Now they have company as people look for bargains and are fueled by the stories they see on TV.

“TV has created quite the hysteria with “Storage Wars” and reality is all of us,” Mau said of his unit and other storage unit owners. “We prefer the customers would actually pay. This is a last resort going to auction.”

Mau said in the industry it’s common to be fairly lenient and payments may be 30 days late before a certified notice is served, which gives people another 30 days to act. Even with the auction, Mau said rarely is the entire bill recovered. Storage units may range from $40 to $60 a month depending on size. Storage unit owners have the option to start auctioning as soon as 45 days after payments are missed, but Mau said the reality is it’s more like 90 to 120 days. Lake Region Storage and Johnson Mini-Storage were among those recently having storage auctions. The tough economy hasn’t dramatically changed the number of units left for auction, Mau said, adding there are a variety of reasons and situations people are no longer able to make payments and either walk away by choice or because they have no other choice.

But what is clear, Mau said, is the significant jump in the number of people coming to the auctions because of the cable show. “The exposure those kinds of programs have brought has certainly increased the traffic to our auctions and increased the dollar value people are paying for it,” Mau said.

Items people find inside the storage unit have included classic electric guitars, figurine collectibles worth a notable amount on eBay, wallets full of cash, diamond rings, even three-wheelers. Mau said the things that really bring customers back to their storage unit are often the personal mementos that wouldn’t be worth in cash what they mean to individuals. But it’s hard to know exactly why items of value, which could have paid off the storage unit bill and more, are left behind.

Some units are a bust. Others a gold mine. Mau said one guy paid $2,000 for a storage unit’s contents. Inside were lathes, drills, wood presses and wood-working equipment. The guy made $8,000 off the sale.

Some people come to bid on the auction items. Others are just there to watch it all take place, becoming part of the experience they see on TV.

“Everybody wants to mimic the characters on the show,” Mau said. “In terms of pure entertainment, it’s a hoot.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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