Tammie Lockwood usually speaks softly and gently. But give her a megaphone and her soft voice suddenly booms, her measured cadence rapidly quickens.
Lockwood is a real life self-storage auctioneer – a forgotten profession recently popularized on reality TV.
"This is reality, the dirty mattress, the hard work, the sweat," she said, toting a riot-style bullhorn.
As many as 1,000 times a month, Lockwood parades a single-file line of bargain hunters to an abandoned storage locker, saws off the lock, gives them a glimpse, then immediately sells everything inside to the highest bidder.
Dozens of people follow her each day.
"It's just like television," joked John Whobrey, an amateur buyer who got hooked on the idea after seeing storage auctions on cable television.
"It gets in your blood," he said.
Although the reality TV crews have only recently locked on to this unusual bargain hunt, Lockwood has hosted auctions for more than two decades.
"It's a surprise every time," she said. "It's a great way to find bargains."
Prospective buyers are permitted a brief look each unit, usually by flashlight, before the auction opens. They can look, but they can't touch.
Once everyone's had a peek, Lockwood pulls the trigger and the bullhorn sounds.
"Let's have an auction," she yells.
Start to finish, the price war lasts only a few minutes.
She's is all business, calling bids in rapid succession. But she does bait her buyers a little bit.
"Ohhh, look at that," she exclaims. "A loaded unit!"
Whobrey wins that locker, ponying up $275. He doesn't know exactly what's inside, but he has a hunch he'll make money. He pays cash oh-the-spot, and rushes to pick through his newest purchase.
"I can't wait," he says. "Let's see what's inside."
Behind the nondescript aluminum door, Whobrey finds an abundance of ordinary junk: broken lamps, a phone book, a couple plastic storage bins, and forgotten photos.
But there's also the walnut case. John spotted it tucked in the darkened right corner. He pondered whether it contained ho-hum stainless steel or valuable silver. Ultimately, his gamble is that its contents are genuine Sterling – worth much more than the $275 he bid.
"It just takes a small amount of gold to make your day," he said.
Lockwood agreed with Whobrey, though she noted that storage auctions are truly a crap shoot. And even those who profit must work through each locker to sort trash from treasure.
"They're full of the unknown," she said.
Lockwood says she hosts self-storage auctions almost every single day around the Tampa Bay area. A list of upcoming local auctions is located here: http://www.auctionstorage.com/
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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