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Ben Hendricks of Five Star Services, Inc. conducts an auction Tuesday, June 24, 2012, of items left in a storage unit at 32nd & 32nd Storage in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Fargo's version of 'Storage Wars' offers 'less drama, less competition and a lot more fun'

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Fargo ND 101 5th Street North 58102

FARGO – Twenty-one hopefuls peered into the dusty storage unit and saw a hockey stick, motorcycle helmet, baby stroller, skateboard, and bags and boxes with unknown contents.

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“The fortune is in what you can’t see,” said John Smith of Fargo, a 58-year old California native with a bright red bandana and a T-shirt that read “BIG MONEY HUSTLE.”

Smith was one of almost two dozen auction-goers looking to buy a storage unit full of hidden treasures Tuesday evening, an activity made popular by the A&E network reality television show “Storage Wars.” But the auctions at 32nd and 32nd Storage in south Fargo were notably more peaceful than the popular TV show, and no television crews were present.

“Here is less drama, less competition and a lot more fun,” said Smith, who watches the show.

“It’s Fargo style,” said Chris, 42, from his truck as he waited for the auction to begin, calling the auctions “relaxed.” Chris, who didn’t give his last name, was looking for toys to sell at his store.

In the first of three storage lockers for sale, there were no toys in sight. But other bidders were especially interested in the motorcycle helmet and the unopened bags, which could either hold something valuable or junk. After taking a look, Smith said he’d pay $100 for the locker.

“You never know what’s in that duffle bag,” he said.

The suspense of “Storage Wars” lies in the reveal, after a unit is bought, of what was in the closed bags and boxes. Smith said he found three boxes of jewelry worth $1,200 at a storage auction in California. Another auction-goer said he once found gold coins.

But most of the stuff is junk, said Ben Hendricks, the energetic 29-year old auctioneer. “You open up and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll find a microwave and a mattress,” he said.

Hendricks started up the bidding on the first locker. “Sold for 300,” he shouted after an intense round of bidding.

The next unit was less promising, except for a massive covered deer head lying next to a gray sports coat, green briefcase, fishing pole, bags and boxes. Everything was covered in a layer of dust.

“I’ve yet to have a deer head,” Hendricks noted. “I suppose you could sell it to a bar.”

“I wouldn’t go over $40,” Smith reported after looking the locker over.

The bidding started weakly at $30 and ended at $70. The winners: Bill, 48, and his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, way before the TV show,” said Bill, who didn’t give his last name. He used to buy 75 units per year until the show drove up interest in storage auctions and prices along with it. Now, he says, amateurs come to auctions and think they know what they’re doing.

Hendricks agreed. Since the show began, interest in storage auctions has gone up, but “it gets to be a lot of sightseers, onlookers,” he said after unlocking and opening up the third and final locker for sale.

“It’s a real-life ‘Storage Wars,’ ” a woman said as the crowd peeked into the unit at a washer and dryer, silver watch, writing textbook, and satellite dish and black duffle bags.

“Comes with a washer-dryer to clean all the clothes,” Hendricks joked before starting the bidding at $50. After a long battle, Smith won the final unit for $250, and eagerly stepped in to see what he’d bought.

After rummaging around, he found an iron (worth 5$, he estimated), a box of hair clippers ($35), shoes ($100), the washer and dryer ($75 each), and nice clothes and silks.

“I’ll make my money back” and even make a little extra, he predicted. But for Smith, “it’s not about the money.” The competition is what drives him to show up to storage auctions. “It’s the thrill of bidding against other people,” he said.

For Hendricks, vice president of storage operations at Five Star Services, which operates six storage facilities including 32nd & 32nd Storage, the auctions are an unfortunate business necessity.

The reality show is “Hollywood, it’s TV,” he said. “It’s not that entertaining in reality.”

Auctioning off a unit isn’t profitable, Hendricks said. He tries to track down nonpaying unit lessees by phone, mail and even

Facebook before resorting to an auction.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said.

But for buyers like Smith, it’s fun.

Over at the second storage unit, Bill and his family were sorting through all of the junk, and most of it would go to the dump. But, he said, there was a surprise find: some promising antique fishing lures. 

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