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Phoenix Man Buys Storage Unit for $20, Finds $16,000 Inside

Posted at 9:20 AM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-13 11:20:58-05

A small group of bidders awaits a private auction at a storage unit business in Tempe, Ariz., showing that real-life ‘Storage Wars’ is much less dramatic than television portrays. 

As the units are opened, bidders can look — not enter — at the contents inside, with some units more glamorous than others.

Among the storage unit scavengers is Donald Smith, who buys storage units and sells whatever he finds inside for a living. 

“[You] get to take a look, can’t cross the threshold, then we start bidding on the storage unit,” said Smith. 

Smith bought a few units during this auction, including one for $25 that looks like… well… trash, but the potential money adds up quickly when Smith starts calculating the value of the items he just bought. 

“That’s worth, probably $40,” said Smith setting down a used amp. “That’s an easy $50 bill,” he added, pointing at a trailer hitch. “I’ll probably get $30, $40 for it,” he said with his hand on a used table saw. 

Not long ago, Smith scored on a unit much like this one.

“[It] did not look like anything,” said Smith. “Looked like Christmas stuff and files.”

So he shelled out $20 for it, started digging around and found his jackpot. 

“I realized I had something historic,” said Smith.

“He started pulling stuff out and I was like, ‘oh my gosh,'” said Eric Hoyer, owner of EJ’s Auction and Appraisal in Glendale, Ariz. 

Inside, Smith found a collection of Civil War artifacts, gold watches, cufflinks, and letters to U.S. Representative from California Henry Barbour, including one from President Herbert Hoover.

I would be grateful indeed if you could look after him a little some time. With kind regards, I am Herbert Hoover,’” read Hoyer. 

That $20 storage unit fetched $16,000 at the auction house and a few weeks of fame for Don. 

“It goes to your head a bit,” said Smith. “It’s 15 minutes of fame. I’ll just ride it out.”

Just days after the auction he was back to work, buying storage units for cheap, hoping to strike gold once again.