South Charlotte

Real auctions lack drama

Watching an episode of A&E's "Storage Wars" got me wondering if I could find similar entertainment in Union County.

On the TV show, auctioneers sell the contents of storage lockers when the rent has not been paid.

So I went to an auction in Indian Trail.

It was led by Butch Evans, a Weddington resident who's been an auctioneer for nearly 40 years. About 50 people were registered to bid, said his wife, Jean, who was in a mobile office near the storage unit.

Ben Wall of Charlotte stood nearby with his mother, Debbie Wall, and his daughter Elizabeth. He said he goes to auctions "about every day," and this morning's auctions was the first of four he planned for the day.

He said the best deal he ever got was when he bid $50 on a bin filled with pallets of boxed ceiling lights. He split the pallets up, sold them at another auction, and made about $6,000.

Debbie Wall said they sell a lot of the items at flea markets. Other auction-goers cited Craigslist and eBay as places they sell storage bin items.

Another attendee, Ray Eby, said he goes to auctions daily to find antiques he can sell at Lilly's Auction in Indian Trail, or in consignment stores.

When the door to the storage unit was opened, dozens of people crowded the entrance for a glimpse inside, where plastic bags and boxes were stacked on large plastic bins, hiding in the back of the unit.

No one could touch anything or enter the bin. Butch Evans explained that whoever bought the bin would have 48 hours to clean it out or risk losing the $50 deposit required to bid on the auction.

The bidding started at $300 and ended at $400 after five quick bids. The winning bid was placed by Russ Corwin, a mechanical engineer from Charlotte who goes to auctions on weekends as a hobby.

Reached after he'd sorted through the items, Corwin said he probably paid too much. He'd been encouraged by how well-packed everything appeared. He found furniture, Christmas decorations, housewares, dishes.

He's been luckier at other auctions, like the time he found a small box containing two gold necklaces, four gold bracelets and four gold rings with diamonds.

Even with the occasional lucky discovery, Corwin's experience with storage bin auctions is not like TV.

"I've talked to a lot of the guys who've been around them for a while, and there are very few stories like you see on TV... And what people don't see on TV is the amount of work that goes on," he said.

The auction was followed by another one in Matthews, and the large group of bidders hit the road to the site.

The bidding for a large bin containing a couple of older televisions, a tricycle and some toys, began at $25 and ended at $95. The crowd moved again to another storage facility in Charlotte, where a bin filled with tools sold for $425 and a bin with half a dozen mushy-looking black plastic garbage bags sold for $40.

Later, I spoke to Donovan Lujan, manager of the North State Storage facility in Indian Trail where the first auction was held. He said there is a very thorough lien process required by law before items in storage can be auctioned off. He also said he tries to work with renters to help them avoid defaults.

"The last thing we want to do is auction anything," he said.

He also offered his opinion of the television show Storage Wars:

"There is nothing that you watch on that program that is real life," he said.