If you’ve ever viewed an episode of A&E’s Storage Wars, you’ve seen the bidding wars over storage lockers, whose unseen contents can provide either a windfall or a loss for the resellers who buy them. Some bidders seem to have a natural instinct for choosing lockers with valuable goods, their skills honed from many years of buying and selling.
For Mike Braiotta, 33—a Mamaroneck native who graduated from Rye Neck High School and is a cast member on Storage Wars: NY—finding buyers for the items he bought from estate sales, Craigslist ads and storage auctions was a skill he learned from an uncle, a “glorified junkman” who took him to his first storage auction at age 9.
“My uncle’s advice was to buy low and sell high,” said Braiotta.
Eventually, the Blow Pop-selling kid whose childhood nickname was “The Hustler” opened a thrift store in Mamaroneck called Sam’s Seconds in August 2011, after years of reselling secondhand goods.
The store’s life was short-lived, however. Located in a low-lying part of Mamaroneck, Sam’s Seconds flooded during Tropical Storm Irene and never reopened.
“I lost a lot of stuff. It really took the wind out of my sails,” said Braiotta.
But misfortune can often lead to unforeseen possibilities. A&E came calling in response to a Craigslist ad that Braiotta placed seeking the contents of people’s homes: they were casting for a spinoff of the original Storage Wars.
Filming began in September 2012 and the first episode premiered on New Year’s Day, 2013; locations include Moishe’s Self-Storage in Long Island City, Queens and Brooklyn; Mini U Storage in Brick, NJ; Big Apple Mini Storage in Harlem and Danbury Self Storage in CT.
Although he might encounter a few duds along the way, Braiotta said that he still retains the same sense of wonder from finding an unexpected treasure.
“Every day is Christmas morning. That’s a thrill you’ll never lose,” he said.
Braiotta recalls the time he spent $125 for a storage locker that seemed to be a dead end.
After rummaging through garbage bags of books, he hit the motherlode: a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, inscribed with a message to a woman, May Down.
Although he fetched $4K for his unlikely find, the book would have been worth $75K had its cover been intact.
And, though many storage auctions occur as the result of people falling on hard times and not being able to pay their monthly fees, not all bidders are looking to capitalize on their hardship.
Braiotta recounts a time he saw a single mother crying outside a storage auction in the Bronx.
“I said ‘Let’s help this lady out and buy back her locker,’” the father of three recalls, paying $350 for the woman’s personal items.
Since becoming a TV star, Braiotta, now a resident of Harrison, says, "Everyone wants to be my Facebook friend."
But Braiotta said he'll quickly go back to normal life once the show ends.
"Even if the show doesn't go on, I'd still be buying storage lockers," he said. He also owns a printing company called Operation Lockdown Apparel.
In a recent episode called “The Shore Thing,” Braiotta tries to sell a 1977 Alcort Sunfish boat at Mamaroneck Boats and Motors.
Though he’s not thrilled with the final offer, he accepts it anyway.
“I may not like the price he gives me but hustlers can’t be choosers,” he said.
For more information on "Storage Wars: NY" please visit A&E's website here.