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Trash Becomes Treasure at Abandoned Self-Storage Unit Sale

By Patty Wetli | October 29, 2012 2:19pm

ALBANY PARK — Scissors. A pin cushion. A postal scale.

Call it “stuff” or call it “junk,” but each of those items once meant something to someone — enough that they paid to store it.

A recent sale of abandoned items at the Lawrence-Kedzie Self Storage turned up all of the above and then some. A baseball bat. Board games. A copy of Michael Jackson’s "Bad" — on vinyl. A stack of mini tart pans. A cookbook from 1942. And cameras. Lots of obsolete cameras.

“We are not the high end of the market; we are not the Storage Wars-type facility,” said Shu Chan, co-owner of the storage space, located at 3215 W. Lawrence Ave. “Most of our items that you see, it’s really sentimental for whatever reason.”

When owners clear out their lockers, which rent for $50-$100 per month, many leave behind objects for Chan to dispose of. Some he donates to charities, including the Salvation Army, and the rest he tries to sell.

Chris Roo, of East Garfield Park, who frequents yard sales and thrift stores, was on the prowl for furnishings for a new apartment. Instead, in a bit of serendipity, he came across a bowling ball and bag.

“I actually just joined a bowling league,” he said. As a dubious bonus, he said, “I also got an empty pretzel twist bag” that the previous owner had left crumpled in the satchel.

Chan, who purchased the storage business in 2003 with his brother after closing their Rogers Park eatery On the Tao, makes every effort to contact a locker’s owner before tagging items for sale, even if the owner is months or years behind in payments.

“We consider ourselves much more of a community service,” he said. “The sale that’s going on here — we’re not going to see anything close to what was owed.”

Chan’s typical customer just needs a temporary home for some items. At least that’s what one lessee thought in 1992.

“We had a customer who just came back from Japan after 20 years,” he said. “She stored her items here to take a job to teach English in Japan. She thought she was going to go to Japan for a year and come back.”

A month ago, the customer, who kept up her monthly payments religiously via traveler’s check, visited her storage space.

“She hadn’t opened that locker in 20 years,” Chan said. “Everything was immaculate.”

Chan is currently sifting through the objects, at the customer’s request, to determine which are worth donating and which to liquidate. “The reason [the owners] hang on — they just don’t want to make the decision to let go.”

Once an owner does let go and the item’s been consigned to the island of misfit storage stuff, one person’s junk inevitably becomes another person’s treasure.

“It’s always fun to find stuff,” said Marie Veski, as she rummaged through tables piled with others' castoffs. “Everybody must have their own little thing they like.”