Driving a supersized black van with his trademark “Yuuup!” printed in large white letters on the side, Dave Hester, formerly of the hit TV auction show “Storage Wars,” visited Napa on Tuesday. The reality show star came to town not to bid but to sell.
Wearing a black shirt with his company’s website embroidered on the pocket, Hester was hired by the new owners of Security Self Storage on Walnut Street. His job: To auction off the contents of units belonging to non-paying tenants.
In California, if a storage unit tenant does not pay the rent within a specified time period, the contents can be auctioned off to the highest bidder, explained co-owner Carl Touhey. The self-storage facility was purchased in December for $2.5 million by Touhey and partner Jay Allen, of Performance Self Storage Group in Emerald Hills and Redwood City.
Touhey said he had 20 Napa units that remained unpaid and he hired Hester to help him clear them out.
Hester’s known by cable TV audiences for his appearances on A&E’s “Storage Wars.” A self-described “villain or antagonist” of the show, viewers either love or hate Hester, depending on whom you ask.
These days, Hester is no longer a participant in “Storage Wars.” He didn’t explain why, saying only, “We’re working on different projects.”
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles superior court, Hester alleges that A&E rigged the show. The complaint also said Hester was paid $25,000 an episode.
On “Storage Wars,” Hester was a bidder, but in real life he works as an auctioneer at between 10 to 15 auctions a week, mainly in California, he said.
“My job is to recognize the value” of the unit and get as much as he can for the contents, he said. He earns 20 percent of the total sale.
With an estimated 20 units up for auction on Tuesday, Hester thought the entire auction would take about 90 minutes. “This is a good turnout as long as they’re good buyers,” he said as he looked at the crowd of about 75 people.
Posing for photos with fans, he occasionally shouted out his signature “Yuuup!” which he frequently used while bidding on “Storage Wars.” On Tuesday, it wasn’t clear how many people were at the auction to bid and how many just wanted to see Hester in the flesh. Some would-be buyers carried step stools or ladders for better views into units. Others held flashlights and in one case a large spotlight.
Alice Ingham of Alice’s Consignment Shop in Napa said it was the first storage facility auction she’d ever attended.
“It feels a little strange to me but I’d like to give it a try,” she said. “It’s low-budget treasure hunting.”
Her friend, Debra Sherman, said she’d gone to storage auctions before. “It’s hit or miss,” she said. “It’s a gamble.” Each bidder has to wonder, “Is this really worth it?”
Stepping in front of a roll top door and holding a clipboard, Hester prepared to start the auction. “I hope you find some treasures in there,” he called out to the crowd.
Rolling open the door of the first unit, a large garage-sized space, Hester invited the crowd to take a peek inside. Bidders are encouraged to look as much as they want but cannot enter the unit itself, he said. This particular unit was packed full of boxes. In addition, a portable commode, an old sewing machine, two ladders, a shoe tree and some wicker baskets could be seen.
One woman used a step stool to get a better look at the back of the space. Another used a flashlight to illuminate the contents. Bids started at $100, then quickly rose to $500 and then $700. At $1,100, buyers Billy Aldridge and partner Ron Fancher, both of Napa, were the winning buyers.
“I told him to stop at $1,000,” said Fancher of his partner.
“There’s a lot of stuff in there,” Aldridge said confidently.
“There could be treasures in the back,” said Fancher optimistically. “I’m hoping for a safe full of money or a bag of gold, but no guns,” he said.
“It’s going to take two days to go through that thing,” he said. “We may have to rent a storage unit” just to store their new bounty.
Caire Rushworth works at a self-storage facility in Dixon. “They did really good by bringing Dave in” for the auction, she said. “They’ll probably make more with him here.”
She said she was a fan of “Storage Wars,” but that Hester “drives me crazy” when she watches the show. “I came here to see how he was in person versus on TV.”
Rushworth said “Storage Wars” has “brought the limelight to storage facilities. I’m sure regulars don’t appreciate that,” she said. “People do this as a living.”
Jim Ledwith, who owns five storage facilities in Sonoma County, said he came to see Hester in action. “The program was very well cast,” he said of “Storage Wars.” “I think he’s a character, a marketer, a salesman,” he said of Hester.
Touhey said he doesn’t like having to auction off people’s belongings. “It’s the worst part of the business,” he said. “On some of these, I will go out of my way” to reunite an owner with his or her personal items, he said. “There are some people we just can’t get a hold of. By law I must hold a public auction. If it doesn’t get purchased, I have the right to keep it but in most cases I just throw it away.”
Sometimes at unsuccessful auctions, he’ll even offer to pay a bidder to take away the contents, just so he doesn’t have to pay the hauling fees to the dump. At other auctions, successful bidders who can’t clean out the unit within the required 24 hours will sometimes elect to rent the same unit, effectively becoming a new customer of the storage facility.
It doesn’t matter to him, Touhey said. A customer is a customer.