I've never watched an episode of the A&E reality show "Storage Wars."

(How does one have time between Animal Planet's "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" and TLC's "Extreme Couponing"?)

But I get the basic premise. Storage auctions are to A&E as teen pregnancy is to MTV - entertainment.

People line up to place bids on repossessed storage units - often without getting a peek inside - in the hopes of finding someone else's forgotten treasure.

But how often do people really find anything worth keeping?

"There's nothing valuable in York County," joked Denise Anthony, facility manager of the U-STOR-IT self storage in York Township. U-STOR-IT has another location in Springettsbury Township.

Bob Anthony cuts a lock on the storage unit on recent Wednesday at U-STOR-IT self storage in York Township. The unit s renter owed $381 on the space, which
Bob Anthony cuts a lock on the storage unit on recent Wednesday at U-STOR-IT self storage in York Township. The unit s renter owed $381 on the space, which was empty. Since the owner didn t return phone calls, U-STOR-IT had to eat the cost. But the company usually doesn t have to cut locks, since most customers pay on time. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Bil Bowden)

She lured me in last week with a call about a space that was coming up for auction.

The bidder's mindset took over. Visions of dead bodies and solid gold danced in my head as I navigated through the facility's 421 units.

As I followed Denise and maintenance manager Bob Anthony through a freezing corridor to a 10-by-10 unit, a thought stopped me in my tracks.

"It might be empty," I blurted.

Yes, it very well might be they both assured me. The visions stopped dancing.

But my heart still started to race as Bob snapped the cheap lock. He lifted the door.

And I was right.

"It's a shame," Bob said. The renter was long gone, and the facility had to eat the cost.

Denise said the person rented the $95-a-month space in September. That was the last payment she received.

It doesn't make sense to her, since the facility offers payment plans and tries to work with customers who have financial concerns.

By law, the facility employees sent notices and made calls to the renter for 90 days after the defaulted payment.

Denise said the numbers were disconnected and the letters came back.

If a person fails to pay after 30 days, a red lock is placed on the unit and the renter's access code to the facility is deleted.

U-STOR-IT has the right to cut the lock on the unit and inventory items after 60 days, but they give the renter the benefit of the doubt until it comes up for auction a month later.

Denise said that U-STOR-IT used to have live auctions - as seen on "Storage Wars" - but now an auctioneer collects leftover items and holds the bidding war off site.

At the end of the day, U-STOR-IT lost $381 on the empty unit. In Pennsylvania, they can't prosecute the renter.

It could have been worse.

If the auctioneer or Red Cross can't use the items, they have to be taken to a dump, which can cost up to $200.

It could have been better.

If there is an auction, the auctioneer gets a cut of the money and the rest goes to recoup U-STOR-IT's losses.

Unlike "Storage Wars," which shows people finding expensive items, U-STOR-IT has only found a few nice pieces of furniture, which didn't fetch high bids.

It's different in Maryland, Bob said. Facility owners can place an overlock on the unit one day after a missed payment. They can go after the deadbeat space renter.

But unpaid spaces aren't running U-STOR-IT out of business. Denise said the delinquency rate for renters is about two percent. They have to cut a lock every two or three months.

U-STOR-IT's goal is to get rid of unwanted junk to offer the space to someone else. The facility was at 93 percent capacity last week.

And, unlike myself, a lot of people seem to be watching "Storage Wars."

"We are inundated with calls (from people) asking about auctions," Denise said.

POPeye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an e-mail to emccracken@ydr.com.

Online

For details about "Storage Wars": www.aetv.com/storage-wars

Do you watch the show? Talk about it at inyork.com/exhange. Click on the TV discussion under The Living Room.

Inside storage auctions

As a district manager at Capital Self Storage, Christi Collins has seen attendance at auctions jump from 12 to 200. 

At a December auction, she asked the crowd if they'd seen "Storage Wars." Half the arms in the room shot up.

Capital Self Storage has nine facilities in the region. Every quarter, they hold auctions - one day at the facilities in the Southern section and the next at the facilities to the North.

Bidders - mostly auctioneers, flea marker owners and retailers - come with flashlights and mirrors on sticks.

Most already have a good idea of the value of most objects. But, like the show, no one can enter the unit until after the auction.

Bids range from $1 to $5,000.

"More dust means more value," Collins said. "That means that the person has paid on (the space) for years."

Someone finds something of value on almost every episode of "Storage Wars." But Collins said good finds are few and far between.

Four years ago, they thought they found a 1929 Steinway piano in one of the Capital Self Storage units.

It would have been worth about $80,000. But Collins said it turned out to be fake.

Capital Self Storage also has on-site parking, so some auctions include, vehicles, RVs, vans and motorcycles left on the lot.

Sometimes, the bidding gets heated. The staff has had to break up a few altercations.

"Some of it still surprises me," Collins said.

What hasn't surprised her are that she's seeing more rummaging and storage reality shows including The History Channel's "American Pickers" and Tru TV's "Operation Repo."

Go to an auction

Capital Self Storage will hold on-site auctions March 22 at its Hanover, Dover, East York and West York locations.

The auction starts at 9 a.m. at a location to be determined. Auctions will continue to the other facilities throughout the day.

Auctions take place March 23 at the Middletown, Enola, Mechanicsburg and both Harrisburg locations.

For details and to sign up for e-mail auction updates, call 1-800-932-2185 or visit www.capitalselfstorage.com.

Meet one of the 'American Pickers'

Mike Wolfe forages through dilapidated barns and overgrown yards. He'll discuss some of his greatest finds and answer audience questions at 7:30 p.m. April 28 at Penn State York's Pullo Family Performing Arts Center, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., Spring Garden Township.

Tickets cost $34. For details and tickets, call 505-8900 or visit thepullocenter.com .

For details about "American Pickers," visit www.history.com/shows/american-pickers.