If you've seen any of the popular TV shows about people who bid on foreclosed storage units—like TruTV's Storage Hunters or A&E's Storage Wars—the idea of a self-storage business probably brings to mind the drama of those men and women who search, oftentimes through trash, to find treasure.
In real life, it's much less dramatic.
Or at least that's what Fullerton Self Storage manager Karrie Barresi has to say about it.
In her three-and-a-half years with the company, she's seen some interesting stuff during auctions: antique guns, an old chest full of 1960's Baltimore Sun editions detailing the Civil Rights movement, even a handgun—that one had to be reported to police, she said.
For the most part, Karrie's job is quieter than the television show. She manages a climate-controlled warehouse used by both commercial and residential clients.
"People store RV's [outside], furniture—a lot of furniture—and boxes," Barresi said. "No one tells us what's in the boxes, we don't have to know."
Barresi explained that a lot of companies—Redbox among them—use Fullerton Self-Storage as a base of operations.
"Businesses are closing storefronts as they find they don't need them," Barresi said. "They're going out to see their clients, and they come here to load up before they do; we also provide them with a conference room when they need to see clients here," she said.
The day-to-day operations, though, don't mean that Barresi doesn't occasionally see a storage unit used for something interesting.
"We had one guy who kept stereo equipment and a lounge chair in his unit—he must have had someone he wanted to get away from, he'd sit here all day listening to music and reading," Barresi said. "This must of been his place."
Baressi tells stories about a painter who wanted to rent a unit to use as a studio, and one client who stored an electronic drum kit in one unit and would come in to play it regularly for hours.
"Everybody needs a place for their stuff," Barresi said. "George Carlin said so."
Barresi made the comment in reference to a sketch where the famous comedian talks about the human obsession with stuff.
Even Barresi isn't immune.
"I've got a unit—I've got old vinyl records but nothing to play them on," she said. "I've got every Sesame Street stuffed animal from my kids—Big Bird, the Count, Mr. Snuffalupagus ... you never know when you're going to need those."
And that's the crux of the whole business—people store the things they just aren't ready to let go of, Barresi said.
Unfortunately, sometimes people don't pay to store their stuff—and that's when it heads to auction.
"Storage Wars—that describes the competition between bidders," Barresi said. "It's like Las Vegas, you're not going to find something in every [unit] but I think that's part of why people do it."
Barresi said that on auction day, the third Tuesday of every month, the parking lot at Fullerton Self Storage is full. Between 50 and 60 people show up, according to Barresi. Most of them regulars who follow Severn River Auctions, the company that handles the bids for Fullerton Self Storage.
"It's really not as glamorous from our side as it is from the other side," Barresi said, before she offered a cautionary tale.
"You really need to be careful what you keep in a storage unit—especially if you think you might not be able to pay for it," she said.
She tells the story of a lost yearbook from her senior year of high school—she believed it had been lost when a storage unit kept by her late husband was put up for auction.
"A few days ago, I looked up my year's yearbook on Classmates.com and when I looked at the inside cover it was my yearbook — right there, it said 'Karrie, we'll be friends forever,'" she said. "You never know where stuff is going to end up."
Unfortunately we missed the February auction day, but stay tuned next month when we take you inside Fullerton Self Storage Wars.