Windham business hosts a local 'Storage Wars'-like auction

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Windham - posted Tue., Aug. 6, 2013
Ernie Eldridge auctions off the contents of a storage unit at Miller Brothers Self-Storage on Aug. 3. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Ernie Eldridge auctions off the contents of a storage unit at Miller Brothers Self-Storage on Aug. 3. Photos by Melanie Savage.

It was a blast from the past as Miller Brothers Self-Storage auctioned off many years’ worth of accumulated possessions at its facility on Windham Road on Aug. 3. In recent years, shows such as A&E’s “Storage Wars” have glamorized and popularized storage unit auctions. But, “It’s not going to be like you see on TV,” said Miller Brother co-owner Scott Miller, as he directed cars into the parking lot for an auction preview. “You’re not going to find any Picassos here,” said Miller.

For one thing, most of the offered items came from 47 different vaults from the Miller Brothers’ former moving business. Due to the economy, the family got out of moving in 2010, and now deals only in self-storage, Penske and Hertz rentals, and classic car and other vehicle storage. Moving vaults had already been unpacked and pre-sorted, so there wouldn’t be many lock-cuts and suspenseful reveals a la “Storage Wars.” “And why would anybody leave anything really valuable and not come back for it?” asked Miller. “It’s just not very realistic.”

Vaults and units had been scheduled for auction after many attempts to collect payment from the contents’ owners. “We notified some people back in ’88 that their stuff was going to be auctioned,” said Miller.

Inside a massive storage building, the contents of the 47 moving vaults had been neatly arranged and categorized. Most of the work was done by Anita Sebestyen, wife of Windham Mayor Ernie Eldridge, and Miller’s wife, Marie. Eldridge, owner of Eldridge Auctions, had been enlisted as auctioneer. The group worked many hours on unwrapping and sorting the items, including 10 hours a day for the five days immediately preceding the auction. “They were all packed for moving,” said Miller, noting that most items had to be removed from boxes and protective bubble wrap or newspaper.

The items represented a large cross-section of American history and culture. On one end of the warehouse was a row of washing machines and driers. Nearby, on a queen-sized bed, sat a stuffed, life-sized Lhasa Apso. An old welder’s mask bore the name “Brian,” written across the forehead in red, indelible marker. There was an entire collection of bone china tea cups and saucers, and another collection of shot glasses, many bearing place names suggesting vacation locations. From a large group of plastic milk crates filled with old, vinyl albums, someone had pulled a copy of Captain and Tennille’s “Come in from the Rain.” There was a 1972 yearbook from Andrew Warde High School in Fairfield. There was an old photo album filled with family pictures. "Jay's first birthday, April 11, 1971, Easter," was handwritten across the bottom of a faded photo showing an adult male holding a little boy. There were old printing presses dating back to the early 19th century, complete with cabinets bearing drawer after drawer of individual, cast letters. On a table near the front of the room sat a number of tools, including an antique drill press.

Jean Lemire, a dealer at the Jewett City flea market, was eyeing the press. Lemire has been selling at the market for 23 years. “I deal mostly in tools,” he said. “I have more than 40,000 tools, and maybe 10,000 other items.” Lemire said that flea market sales have slowed down quite a bit over the past five years. “It’s the economy,” he said. But the economy did seem to be renewing an interest in buying used items, according to Lemire. “Today people are little more careful with their money, so they do come to the flea market to save a buck,” he said.

Eldridge knew Lemire from the regular Monday night auctions held at his auction house on Park Street in Willimantic. “I recognize quite a few of the people who are here,” said Eldridge. Most of people who attend the Monday auctions are dealers, said Eldridge, people who sell at flea markets or retail locations, as opposed to collectors or other non-dealer folk. “This one should draw more retail people off the street,” he said.

Eldridge launched into a discussion with a potential buyer about the antique printing presses. The man talked about placing the letters, one-by-one, into the forms when he was a young boy.

“Every piece tells a story,” observed another buyer, as he browsed nearby.

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