Locker Liquidators customer Thomas Day haggles with owner Mike Rego over the price of a cookbook. Rego wanted $4 for it, but Day paid $3. (Staff photo by Diccon Hyatt.)
Locker Liquidators customer Thomas Day haggles with owner Mike Rego over the price of a cookbook. Rego wanted $4 for it, but Day paid $3. (Staff photo by Diccon Hyatt.)

Anyone who has watched the AMC show Storage Wars knows that “When storage units are abandoned, the treasures within are put up for auction.”

But aside from a few reality show characters, who actually buys lockers full of other people’s abandoned odds and ends?

Around here, that would be Mike Rego, whose store, Locker Liquidators, on Prospect Avenue on the Ewing-Trenton border, is stocked with miscellanea he buys at storage unit auctions.

On the shelves of Locker Liquidators you will find: a microscope, several cable boxes, a hammer with a sticky handle, $2 DVDs, office supplies, a Sega Genesis with the game NBA Jam, army fatigues, miniature statues, a George Foreman grill, a whole shelf of off-brand robotic dogs, and more. So much more, and all of it at bargain basement prices.

The business grew out of a hobby of Rego’s. Rego had become obsessed with Storage Wars and wanted to follow in the footsteps of its wheeling and dealing characters. One day, he and a friend went to a storage auction and bought several units. One, which was full of Waterford crystal, earned a profit of a few thousand dollars. He was hooked.

It was also a nice break from his concrete business, which doesn’t do much work during the winter.

Soon Rego’s garage, and his partner’s garage, and their parents’ garages were overflowing with storage unit stuff.

“We kept buying and buying and buying, and storing stuff,” he said. “Eventually it got overwhelming. We ended up having to rent a warehouse.”

They started holding weekly flea markets to sell the extra things outside the warehouse. Before long, the location at Robbins Avenue in Ewing became known among thrift shoppers.

When their landlord said a storefront was available on Prospect Avenue, Rego jumped at the chance to turn his flea market into a store that was open all week. His partner, a corrections officer, didn’t have the time, and decided to drop out.

Rego relishes his new role as master of the thrift shop. The concrete business requires precise accounting and construction, but he enjoys running Locker Liquidators by the seat of his pants. He sets prices by pure estimation, and shoppers will find him open to bargaining.

Occasionally he will pull an item from the shelves and sell it on eBay. But most of the time, he’s making it up as he goes along.

“Whatever price is marked is definitely negotiable,” he said.

He has bought 60 lockers in two years, and he guesses about five lockers’ worth of stuff is in the store at any given time. What’s on the shelves is entirely random, depending on what kind of locker he buys.

Some of the lockers had odd contents. Rego recalls one locker whose owner had labeled every object with the time, date and temperature it was when he purchased it. The same person must have been into metal detecting, because there were numerous cannonballs that had been dug out of the earth. The cannonballs didn’t end up in the store, but if you look around Locker Liquidators, you can see a few meticulously labeled items.

He has found other used artifacts which were not suitable for sale.

“We get a lot of adult content in these things,” he said. “Videos, toys, whatever. We don’t keep the toys.”

Buying the lockers sometimes comes with a bit of remorse. Whoever owned the locker may have still wanted the stuff inside, but couldn’t pay their bills.

“I dated people that don’t even agree with me doing this,” he said. “They say, ‘This is wrong, what you’re doing, people can’t afford to pay their bills, and you’re coming and buying their stuff.’ I feel like if I don’t do it, someone else is going to and that person is going to lose their stuff anyway. I could see what she was saying, and it kind of opened me up to thinking that way a little bit, but at the same time, I’m addicted to this already so I can’t stop.”

Rego said he once bought a locker belonging to a prisoner whose wife had promised to pay the storage bills, but never did. Rego tried to contact him to sell his stuff back for the same price he paid at the auction for the locker, but the owner wouldn’t put him in touch with the convict.

He tries not to let compassion get in the way of business very often.

“You shouldn’t be in this business if you have that kind of remorse for the people,” he said.

On the other side, the business allows people in the neighborhood near the store to buy things they normally wouldn’t be able to afford, for whom Target and Wal-Mart are too expensive.

“I furnish half my house with this stuff,” said Thomas Day, who lives across the street from the store and visits every day. “I got a blower here. I really needed one because my cheap-ass landlord raised the rent, so I had to clean up around the house.”

Locker Liquidators is located at 804 Prospect Street in Ewing. It is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Phone: (609) 396-1870.

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Diccon Hyatt is business editor of U.S. 1. He has worked for Community News since 2006 and was previously community editor of the Ewing Observer, the Hopewell Express, the Lawrence Gazette, and the Trenton Downtowner. From 2003 to 2006, he was a general assignment reporter for the Middletown Transcript in Middletown, Delaware. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Delaware, where he was features editor of the student newspaper, The Review. He has won numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware D.C. Press Association and the Association of Free Community Newspapers for features, news, and opinion writing. He is married and lives in Marlton, NJ.