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    7-30. Storage unit sales - Electronic Edition

    7-30. Storage unit sales - Electronic Edition
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     Storage unit companies foreclose unpaid units and take all the stuff in them. They sell or donate that stuff. A high percentage of it is construction material. Reporter Jim Stingl of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided to check one out:

Storage unit sales feature thrill of hunt, agony of default
Oct. 29, 2005
by Jim Stingl

You’ve seen these places, maybe even used one yourself. Public Storage, the company is called. Rows and rows of orange garage doors, and behind each one somebody’s stuff.

Often a traumatic life event is what lands the furniture, mattresses, boxes and such here: an eviction, divorce, death, job loss. You pay by the month for the secure space, about a dollar per square foot. So a 10-by-10-foot area might run you $100.

If you don’t or can’t pay, warning calls and letters fly in your direction. Finally your lock is cut off and Public Storage puts on its own.

Then the day comes when your stuff is sold to anyone who cares to show up and bid on it. A notice is published saying that the following people are, in so many words, deadbeats. It gives their space numbers and some sense of what’s in there: “Loveseat, couch, dresser,” for example. Most have way more clutter than that.

I’ve always wanted to see how one of these forced rummage sales worked, so I showed up Tuesday at Public Storage, 6676 W. Appleton Ave. on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The notice listed 53 people and their stuff.

Fifteen of us scavengers followed two Public Storage workers from space to space. I had planned to show you how it looked, but the company would not allow a photographer to come along.

You could tell who the regulars are. They knew enough to bring powerful flashlights to illuminate every corner of the dark spaces. And you could pick out the rookies, too.
“Ma’am, you can’t go in the unit,” one worker scolded. “You can’t touch the goods.”

The mess of items in the first space we considered, previously owned by one Johnnie Williams, included a rattan chair and boxes, and I saw a bag of dog food and a jar of peanut butter in there. “Do you have any
bids?” the worker asked. Silence. “Zero bids once, twice, no sale,” she said, slamming the unit door shut.

Most draw bids

Most of the spaces attracted at least one bid. Sometimes a mountain of stuff would go for $5 or $10. For each space, you buy all or nothing. Cash only.

The regulars would tease each other. “Hey man, you better get yourself a couple of semis.” The good news is that the stuff is yours.

The bad news is that it’s yours to move.

One guy paid $170 – the most any space commanded on this particular day – for a trailer and all the stuff crammed in with it. He told me he’s been hitting storage unit sales for a few months now just for something to do, the way some people hit garage sales or estate sales. He quickly got over the creepy feeling that he was going through someone else’s things.

“It’s like a treasure hunt. You get addicted to it,” he said.

He didn’t want his name used. No one did. One man, who runs a resale store where he tries to turn a profit on what he buys, put it best: “People find out you got their stuff, they come looking for it.”

Electronics, tools and antiques are a big draw. Sometimes the units yield guns.

It’s sad to see bikes and toys and boxed Christmas trees mixed in with the surrendered items, or the framed photo of a pretty little girl with a purple parasol.

“It’s not a happy occasion,” said Clemente Teng, a spokesman for Public Storage at their main office in California.

“We do give our clients plenty of notice,” he said. But for those who don’t pay, the law allows belongings to be sold.

And just like that, someone else’s stuff becomes your stuff.

After about 90 minutes, we reached the final unit, H100. Forty-five bucks took it all, including a stuffed bear with hearts on its chest.

“That’s it,” the worker said.

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