It’s a risk, a gamble, but also a thrill that rivals Christmas Day surprises. When modern-day treasure hunters Tina and Matt Shorey slide the metallic door of a storage unit open, what they may find hidden inside is a mystery.
While bidding on abandoned storage units is not new, the Greenbank couple found a unique way to share the fruit of the hunt. They opened a Freeland store, Forgotten Treasures NW.
The business stands out from many other thrift stores on Whidbey Island. It’s not a store full of donated items, but rather a careful selection of items pulled from defaulted storage units won through bidding.
The unique source of the merchandise means that the ever-changing stock in the thrift store often contains collections, rare finds and valuable items that may never have seen public eye otherwise.
“We’re kind of like the Storage Wars of Whidbey Island,” Tina Shorey said, referring to a popular A&E Network TV show.
Thrift seekers who stop by the store will see a range of items — the majority vintage or collectible — including rare toys, signed sports memorabilia, clothes, classic signs, original artwork, dusty video games, books, decorations, tools and much more.
“Older and cheap” is how Matt Shorey describes their products and pricing. They price to sell, after doing research on the value of each item and choosing the lowest estimated value.
She tries to select items she would want to buy, Tina Shorey said.
“We like to hunt for antiques and treasures, so it seemed like something that’d be right up our alley,” Matt said of the new store.
One diamond in the rough was a first edition Barbie, produced in 1960.
“Barbie came out in 1959,” Tina Shorey said. To figure out which Barbie they’d stumbled upon, she did a lot of research. The “oily face” and box were all clues that helped her figure out the find. Just the box itself was worth over $1,000, she said.
The Shoreys spend 20 to 25 hours per week picking through storage rooms. They often end up with $50 or $60 worth of garbage in each unit but still regularly yield finds that make it worth it. A winning bid on the units can cost anything from $25 to $1,000.
“There’s a lot of risk,” Matt Shorey said.
Auction bidders don’t get much of a look behind the curtains before making a payment, merely a few minutes of previewing a unit without touching. Recently, they had a simple $25 bid pay out big time, stumbling upon room dividers made in the Philippines worth $3,000 a piece.
“You never know. Sometimes (units) look really good and they’re not,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t look good and they’re great.”
The store ends up with some pretty nice collections, Matt Shorey said. It seems like everyone collects something, he said.
The storage unit bidding wars is a process that varies from state to state. In Washington, storage companies holding items in these units may put the contents up for auction if the owner doesn’t pay rent for weeks, with the exception of personal papers and photographs.
Laws detail how the businesses must notify tenants of overdue rent. If that fails, then contents are fair game for bidders such as the Shoreys, who bid on units from Everett to Olympia.
Buying storage units means competing with other thrifty people and eBay flippers. There’s a lot of people out there “trying to make a buck,” Matt Shorey said.
There are many reasons why a unit may go up for bid, from failure to pay to death and divorce.
“Some people move, and they just don’t want it anymore,” Tina Shorey said. The couple does try to leave behind any intimate items of personal value, in hopes owners will retrieve the items.
Future plans for the store include amping up social media presence and developing an online website for digital bargain hunters.
Their store has been open since July 1, but they had been considering making their hobby of thrift and antique hunting into a business for much longer, with the idea stemming from simple and popular yard sales they’d hold regularly to sell the spoils of the storage units scavenger hunts.
But now, the yard sales have evolved into the Forgotten Treasures NW store, and the Shoreys say they hope to bid, buy and bargain for a long time to come.