There’s usually a steep learning curve for newly minted reality stars, having to learn how to be themselves — or the character/caricature they’ve developed — on camera. Mike Braiotta says this was also the case for him, but in talking to the Storage Wars: New York star, you wouldn’t bat an eye if he told you he’d been training for this all his life.
That’s not meant in a negative way, the way one rolls eyes at the ready-made artificiality of a Kardashian. It’s just another way of saying that Braiotta (pictured below, left, with costar John Luke) is a natural in front of the camera, and during an interview. The New York-born entrepreneur — who also runs his own clothing line, Operation Lockdown — talked with me about his history in the storage-auction game, and about getting ready for his shot at fame. Storage Wars: New York airs Tuesdays at 10pm.
Channel Guide Magazine: So, I got to watch an episode of the show.
Mike Braiotta: Yeah? How’d I look?
CGM: Well, it was kind of a rough time for you. You didn’t make much of a haul, and you had some stomach issues.
MB: Yeah, I know. Tell me about it. I’m never eating my mother-in-law’s cooking again.
CGM: Hopefully you fare a little better in some other episodes.
MB: Oh, absolutely.
CGM: So you’re “The Hustler.” How’d you get that name?
MB: They came up with the name. It fits me in a way, dating back as far as when I was in kindergarten, I was the kid who brought Blow-Pops to school and would sell them for $2. I was always hustling to get ahead. I had a rough upbringing, and I’m not really going to get into that, but like they say it’s always the first of the month in New York. You always have to hustle to make that dollar. When I buy lockers and stuff like that, my whole objective is buy it and turn around and sell it as fast as possible. I don’t like sitting out things, taking my time, waiting it out, unless it’s a big-ticket item where it might need some research done. Other than that, I’m always about constantly moving, like any typical New Yorker is.
CGM: How did you get started bidding on storage units?
MB: My uncle took me back when I was 9 years old, he took me to my first auction. Back then it was nothing, it wasn’t like it is today. He got me into basically the whole garage-sale hustle, you know buy for cheap and sell it for more. I was working at a store a few years back — 8, 9, 10 years ago —I lost my job, so I said to myself, “Let me pick up on something I’ve always been good at.” Which is taking something for cheap, selling it for more. That led to me to start going to the auctions alone and making it an every day-type deal and so on and so on.
CGM: How has the atmosphere at auctions changed since Storage Wars got popular?
MB: This show definitely changed a lot of things. Everybody thinks you’re going to get rich constantly doing this, and they don’t really comprehend how much work is actually involved in buying a storage locker. A lot of the times you see these rookie buyers come out bringing their kids’ college fund, let’s say, and spend two, three, four thousand dollars on a locker thinking they’re going to be rich. And I just laugh at them, because you know what, I see people make this kind of mistake all of the time.
CGM: Had you watched the other Storage Wars shows. How’s this one compare?
MB: Keep in mind, you’re seeing the good stuff. You’re seeing guys strike out, too. In this business, 90 percent of the time if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get beat bad. Even me, myself, I’ve been doing it for so long, the only way you learn is make bad buys. It’s the only way it works. It’s like any lesson in life, if you don’t learn it the hard way, you’re never going to learn it.
CGM: What does being in New York add to the show?
MB: New York is a totally different beast altogether. When you see L.A., Texas, you’re talking about 90 to 95 percent of the lockers are outdoors. They’ve got plenty of room, but where we are, we’re in six-, seven-floor buildings, it’s all condensed, as far as the auction and bidding goes. It’s a lot different, compared to pulling your truck up and being able to load it up outside. You also have to remember, we’re in a city of 8 million people, there’s hardly any room to store anything in the city if you live in the city, so you find a lot of high-end items that are stored out here. Like out West, you’re going to find more antiques out there. Around here, if I want to go buy something that’s an antique, I go to upstate Connecticut, I go to Pennsylvania. You’re going to go to a more rural area. But down here you’re going to find more of the hip, trendy stuff. So it’s a major difference.
CGM: What’s the experience filming this been like?
MB: Believe me, it definitely adds a different element to it. I’m still doing what I do. I’m not a movie star, I’ve never been on TV before, so yeah, it was a little awkward at first, sure. But as you went through it and you got used to how everything played out, it got easier. It’s tough, I’m not used to being at an auction with a camera by my face, or you know, 50 different people in that tight little alley trying to bid on one thing. It was a little challenging, but it was a blast doing it.
CGM: Was part of it that it took a little time for you to feel free to be yourself with the cameras around?
MB: Oh, of course. Toward the end, I was like, “Damn, this sucks, because we’re stopping and I’m just finally starting to get more natural around the camera.” Like I said, I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never been on camera.
CGM: How did you become involved with the show?
MB: They approached me. I used to own a thrift store up in West Chester County. I opened up about three or four months before Hurricane Irene hit, so what I was doing was running ads on Craigslist saying I’ll buy the contents of your house, and going around to people who didn’t want a bedroom set or living-room set anymore and I’d come in and make them an offer and bring it back to my shop and sell it. I guess somebody saw the ad and asked me do I do storage lockers? Yeah, almost 95 percent of my store is from storage lockers. One thing led to another and this is where I am today. I went and met with them and I guess they liked what they saw.
CGM: Are you ready to become a lot more well-known?
MB: (Laughs) That’s tough. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can’t let an opportunity go by no matter what it is in life. Sure, I’m married, I have a wife, three kids, so I’m expecting it to put a little stress on my personal life, but you know what they say, you only live once. You gotta try it. We’ll see what happens.
CGM: What’s your relationship like with the other buyers on the show?
MB: It hasn’t gotten to the point where I hate all of them. Outside the auction game, we can be best friends. When game time starts, the gloves come off, it’s business. They’re good people, but I have no problem battling them when we’re doing what we have to do.
CGM: In all your time doing auctions, do you have a favorite find?
MB: One of my best finds ever was I bought a locker for about $125. I don’t even know how long ago it was now, but it was mostly trash bags. It was during the time when I was building the store, and getting the store ready for opening, so I was looking to buy anything. So I bought this and it was a lot of trash, and I didn’t think it was anything of value. Now, me, I’ve disregarded books so many times when I found them, but for some reason, I said, “You know what, let me look, because these look kind of old.” I found a signed copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. It was inscribed, it was made out to somebody, he wrote all this crazy stuff on the inside of his books when he signed them. It was first edition, second press. That I sold for $4, 000. That’s big.
Photos: © 2012 A&E Networks