Inside the unit appeared to be a sturdy-looking wooden bed frame with four posts spiraling up towards the ceiling. A huge projection television sat just in front of a full-size, portable basketball goal. Right in the middle, facing away from the entrance, a grandfather clock could be seen.
The bidding started almost immediately — $25, $50, then up to $100, topping out at $250 by the end.
Robert Wallace, owner of Anniston variety store Auction Treasures, decided not to bid.
“The bed frame is broken,” he explained in a whisper, pointing to a nasty break in the frame near the back of the unit.
It's easier for Wallace to step back from the eye-grabbers because he has a few years of experience with storage auctions.
“My first storage unit was worth about $7,000. We still use the bedroom suite from that,” he said, laughing.
Some of the best units look the least flashy, Wallace has found, like the one that belonged to a deceased former police captain. He had hundreds of dollars of collectable coins, police patches from cities all over the country, including Anniston, and even a bobby hat from England — a hefty collection, good enough to leave someone wondering why it was abandoned.
“We go to extremes to make sure people are notified of the auctions,” says Angie Ciccimarro, owner of Anniston Self Storage. According to Ciccimarro, auctions are the storage companies’ only legal method for clearing out a unit for reuse. Advertisements for the auctions not only publicize the event, but give tenants another notification that their stored items are being sold. This is after the phone calls and letters go unanswered and a more than 60-day grace period has ended.
Wallace passed up a few other seemingly interesting lots, one with another big television. But with the screen pushed up against the wall there's no telling if it works, he said.
He eventually settled on a unit full of boxes, won without a fight from other bidders. Inspecting his winnings afterwards, he discovered an ancient-looking metal Crock-Pot and some dining room chairs.
"Oh, check this out," he said, holding up a child-sized John Deere bike with training wheels still attached. "It's in great condition, and it's going to look good at Auction Treasures."
Wallace describes his business as a cross between a thrift shop, antique store and pawn shop.
"Put them in a bag, then shake it up," he said. "That'd be us."
The store has been open in downtown Anniston for about two years. The shelves are lined with assorted knick-knacks, coffee mugs and silverware. A cardboard standup of James Dean stands guard over some of the bigger items, like a zebra-print upholstered chair made from a wooden barrel, and a huge Native American-inspired rug hanging on the wall.
Items with historical significance go in the glass case, like a signed, first edition copy of Gen. Omar Bradley's autobiography, which came from the police captain's storage unit.
Then there's the stylish stuff like the rare Sly Stone promo album, "Everything You Always Wanted to Hear by Sly Stone But Were Afraid to Ask For" hanging on the wall.
Aside from the thrill of the hunt and stocking his shelves, Wallace notes that there are practical reasons to get involved in storage auctions. Standing in his most recently acquired storage unit, he pulls a sealed package of toilet paper from one of the many boxes.
"I haven't had to buy deodorant, laundry detergent or dish soap since I started," he says with a laugh.
Auction Treasures is located at 1005 Gurnee Ave. in Anniston. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and can be reached at 256-294-1764.