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FRANK MICKADEIT, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Brandi Passante and Jarrod Schulz of "Storage Wars" behind the counter at their shop in Orange. Brandi doesn't seem quite the nag and Jarrod doesn't seem quite the nimrod in real life.
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Tension between O.C.'s 'Storage War' stars

Tension between O.C.'s 'Storage War' stars

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Finally – a reality show about me. What the "Real Housewives of Orange County" did for O.C. cougars prowling Newport clubs, "Storage Wars" does for middle-age guys whose idea of a good time is prowling garage sales looking for treasure among others' junk.

The A&E show features four men who compete in the wide-open bidding wars at storage-unit auctions that occur when people don't pay their rent. Two of the four are from O.C.: Dave Hester, who owns Newport Consignment Gallery on Newport Boulevard at 19th Street in Costa Mesa, and Jarrod Schulz, who owns Now and Then Second Hand Store at 810 N. Tustin Ave. in Orange.

It's high risk: A sealed lock comes off, the door rises and the bidders are given a few minutes to peer inside. Then the buyers – amateurs, pros, whoever shows – bid from a couple hundred bucks to maybe a few thousand, based only on what the deadbeat owner has left exposed and what their gut tells them is in the boxes.

Schulz's business partner is his girlfriend, Brandi Passante, who producers quickly integrated into the show once they saw the tension between she and Jarrod over how much money they should bid on various units – and how Jarrod often ignores her. Every week, it seems, the very future of their year-old store – if not their relationship – hangs in the balance. But whatever their tension, it is dwarfed by that between Jarrod and Dave, the wealthier and more experienced secondhand dealer who routinely outbids Jarrod, seemingly just for sport, or for spite.

As they're in their first season, I decided to pay each a visit. Maybe I'd find a new set of OC reality TV stars to mock, ala the "Housewives." However: Dave doesn't seem as big a jerk as on TV; Jarrod doesn't seem as hapless and naive; and Brandi doesn't seem quite the shrew. Pity.

There's no "Now and Then" sign you can see from busy Tustin Avenue, just a generic "THRIFT STORE" on the strip mall facade, in between a hardware store and a shop that sells CB radios. Inside, about two-thirds of the 2,900-square feet Jarrod and Brandi lease is devoted to display. It's a humble but organized inventory: heavy on knickknacks and tube TVs, some small appliances, a half-dozen sofas – typical thrift store fare.

Contrast that with Dave's setup – 18,000 square feet of property that he owns, located at one of the county's biggest intersections, with signage you can see a block away. His place is full of antiques, high-end furniture and original art.

"I was poor Jarrod and Brandi 25 years ago, and nobody cut me any slack," Dave told me when I asked him why he's so cutthroat at the auctions. "I'm not there to make friends; I'm there to make a profit and pay my operating costs."

Still, he's not gruff about it, just matter-of-fact. He's happy to show anyone around, pose for photos. He'll bargain. He agreed to do the show because "it was going to be made whether I participated or not, and I decided to do it because it would put the (storage-auction) business in the best light. It was pretty much of an honor to be asked."

Jarrod, 35, had been in sales and had a couple of failed business when he started buying storage units and selling stuff at swat meets. When it started to overrun the Lake Forest home he and Brandi, 30, share with their two kids, they opened the shop.

Business has picked up since the show started airing last fall. "It hasn't been tremendous but it has definitely been helpful," Brandi says. "But some people just want to come in and say, 'Hi.' I think people relate to us because we're a young couple struggling to run a business."

What has the show done to their relationship? "We're both working toward the same goal, and filming the show has made me realize that," Brandi says. That goal: "We just want to have a successful business and support our family."

Jarrod says the show hasn't affected his relationship with Brandi, but rather with his friends. "When I'm out with my boys, it's 'Oh, has Brandi let you out of the house? Did she give you your lunch money today?'"

"What I lose sleep over," Jarrod says, "is whether I grow bigger or stay the same? The more I grow, the more pressure, the more – "

" – the more of an (jerk) you become?" Brandi finishes.

Both then tell me they think slow growth is the key. Brandi is amazed at how since "Storage Wars" started airing, the number of people who show up for auctions has gone from maybe 30 people at typical auction to 100, 200 and more.

"I've had couples who tell us, 'This is our first auction. We've already leased space.' I say, 'What? That's ridiculous. That's like us trying to be Dave at this point. We have to get more experience."

In the interest of harmony, I asked Dave what advice he's willing to give Jarrod.

"To start using his head," he replied. "Nah, he's too hard-headed to listen to advice."

"Come on," I said, "You say people mistake you for a jerk. Prove them wrong. Give Jarrod one piece of advice that would make a difference in his bottom line over time."

"OK," Dave said after thinking a moment. "Read a book a week. One book on the Victorian Age, a book on collectible toys, then a book on watches, and so on. Get his knowledge base up. One book a week. That will help."

For Jarrod's part, there's definitely respect for what Dave has done in his 25 years in the business. Before "Storage Wars" ever started shooting, he remembers running into Dave at auctions and being frustrated that the older man had the ability to win any unit he desired. Bidding when Dave was around was almost pointless.

"Now," says Jarrod, "sometimes people come up to me (at auctions) and say, 'Are you going to the next auction? Because if you are, I'm just going home.' That's where I'm like, 'Yeah! I'm Dave now!'"

I partnered with columnist Barbara Venezia on a video at Hester's store, and she writes more extensively about him in her column. The video and her column will be online Thursday morning at ocregister.com/Newport/

Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or fmickadeit@ocregister.com


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