Storage wars in North Vancouver
The steely grey interior of a suburban storage facility, with its drab door-wall-door layout, isn't exactly the stereotypical picture of financial opportunity. The rat race is a world away, no briefcase bankers in sight.
Hardly a scene worthy of Gekko's approval.
Yet for a growing number of people, these halls have come to represent serious business, an exciting new frontier in the quest to make a buck.
Mighty is the power of television.
“Sure, the show [A&E’s wildly popular program Storage Wars] gets you, but everyone’s looking for their pot of gold,” says Jay Pillon, a goateed, dirt bike-riding Burnaby resident.
“What’s the difference between this and the casino? At least here you leave with something, right?”
On this sunny Sunday afternoon, Pillon is one of a handful of hopefuls vying for two available units at North Vancouver’s Advanced Storage Centre. Although he's a relative newcomer to the storage-auction fraternity, Pillon's quick to explain how the day's rules are different than usual.
It’s a silent auction, he says. Bidders are allowed to look in each locker — without stepping inside — but instead of yelling out their bids, everyone is instructed to write down how much they wish to pay on small, brightly coloured slips of paper. At the end of the auction, facility staff gather all the paper and those who pledged the most money for each unit win.
The trouble with this system, Pillon says, is that it’s easy to overpay because you don’t know what the others are thinking. When bidding is done aloud, gauging the crowd's response is part of the game and, if done well, proves an invaluable tool in the bidding chess match. Silence, however, requires some cunning.
Before the day's action begins, all participants are asked to sign in at the facility’s front counter. A minor but important formality. No signature, no bidding.
Once everyone is accounted for, the group is led up two quick flights of stairs to the first unit. It's a small, closet-like space, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in volume as boxes are stacked floor-to-ceiling inside. For those looking for clues as to the treasures buried within, this room offers a few: about half of the boxes feature hand-written labels, some reading “curries to go,” others “Hindi movies."
It’s impossible to tell, some bidders comment, whether or not the boxes are actually full of either the pre-packaged spice or what would amount to a substantial library of Indian films. The reception, as a result, is lukewarm.
From there, the group is ushered into another wing of the facility to view the sale's second and final unit. It's here that the day's somewhat middling events take a turn for the exciting.
The next unit is significantly larger, at least double the size of the first, and it houses a few pieces of medical equipment. The chatter quickly escalates about the goods. First, the group notices a few black pails marked "radioactive" on the floor. These buckets dominate the conversation early, as anything with radioactive written on it might, but some attention is also given to the large filing cabinets, wooden chest and boxes that dot the room.
The jewel, though, is a large, square piece sitting near the back. Once it comes into focus, no one talks about much else. The trouble, however, is that the majority of the people there don't know what the cream-coloured box is, let alone what it might be worth.
Except for one guy, that is. Joe, a first-time auction attendee who offered only his first name, knows exactly what it is. Joe's a chemist and worked at the clinic that once owned the equipment. He says the large item is a scanner that detects potential cancers. He doubts it still works as he figures it’s been sitting in the unit for about five or six years, but if it does turn on he thinks it might fetch $50,000. If it doesn’t, he says the parts will still bring in about $10,000.
Joe’s revelations, wisely, are shared after the auction is over. He came hoping to snag some of the smaller items in the medical unit and spoke to the winner — a quiet, Mustang-driving, tattooed fellow who paid $700 for the goods — about purchasing a few pieces.
As the group begins to disperse, winners with dollar signs in their eyes and losers with the resolve to bid another day, Pillon is left checking out his locker of curry and movies. He spent $60 on the lot and is pleased with his purchase. It’s far from his biggest score, Pillon notes, as just two weeks ago he spent $50 on four pieces of furniture at an auction downtown that he says are worth a combined $1,200.
But, naturally, he welcomes any money he can make on this most recent haul. In fact, he figures if he can get a buck per movie, he’ll turn a tidy profit.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” says Pillon, smiling.
“It’s the adventure of finding something. Who knows what it’ll be?”