Valley’s self-storage space in high demand, but short supply
August 5, 2008
BASALT ” Shirley and Kenyon Richard found themselves in a predicament when they retired recently and downsized their primary residence in Phoenix and started spending more time at their Basalt townhouse.
They had too much stuff.
After a lifetime of collecting toys, books, business records, tools, clothes and various treasures, they didn’t have room for it all in their small Phoenix apartment and second residence in the Roaring Fork Valley. For them, self-storage units were a godsend.
“We’re in transition,” Shirley said.
They rented their first storage unit at Basalt Mini Storage years ago after waiting a few months on a waiting list. They quickly outgrew their 5-by-10 unit and upgraded as soon as they could, to a 10-by-20 unit. They have since added a second 10-by-25 unit.
Shirley said they culled their belongings as best they could after selling their primary residence in Phoenix ” and losing the garage and all their other storage space. But even then, they still had a lot of possessions.
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“We have to have a place to store all our treasures in,” Shirley said.
It doesn’t make sense for them to drag their skiing equipment to Phoenix, for example, so they leave it in Basalt. Ditto with the fishing gear and hunting equipment.
Shirley, a retired accountant, predicts a soaring demand for mini-storage simply because of demographics. She is on the leading wave of retiring Baby Boomers. As the hordes retire, many will downsize. And when they do, they will discover ” like her and Kenyon ” that they need self-storage space.
“Baby Boomers went through years of collecting and consuming and now we’re downsizing,” Shirley said. “We don’t have room for all the stuff we accumulated.”
But aging Baby Boomers aren’t the only folks in need of self-storage space. Many Americans are collectors ” not necessarily of valuables per se, but of stuff. Drive through the suburbs and see how many vehicles are parked in driveways because the garages are jammed with stuff. Attics often are disorganized graveyards of out-of-season gear, toys and clothes.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, where land values are high and commercial rents are prohibitive, self-storage is often an affordable option. Plumbers, electricians and construction companies often rent commercial storage units where they can store excess inventory and materials. Retail shops often use mini-storage as warehouse space.
Basalt’s Clay Crossland was ahead of the curve in identifying the need. He came to the Roaring Fork Valley from Houston, where he believes the self-storage business was created. As a young businessman, his first project was building a 3,000-square-foot mini-storage business near the Holland Hills area outside of Basalt in 1973. It was probably the first one on the Western Slope of Colorado, he said.
The Yellow Pages indicates there are now close to a dozen self-storage businesses between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, but signs suggest there is greater demand than supply.
“There is such a demand for ministorage that people are running down to Silt and Rifle,” Crossland said.
But the natural gas boom in Western Garfield County has sent demand soaring for self-storage there. The construction sector of the economy is strong in support of the gas industry. And a swelling transient population of gas patch workers has increased demand for self-storage.
Crossland and his business partners developed what is now known as Storage Mart in a midvalley industrial center off of Willits Lane in the early 1980s and sold the project a few years later. After their non-competition clause expired, they developed the Basalt Mini Storage by Big O Tires in two phases starting in 1992. They offer 683 units of various sizes totaling 70,000 square feet.
While there is consistent turnover, the units are almost always full, Crossland said. As soon as someone leaves a unit, someone is there to snap it up. The 5-by-10 units rent for $95 per month. A 10-by-10 unit rents for $140 per month and a 10-by-15 unit goes for $190 per month.
Crossland and his partners have proposed a new project behind Basalt Mini Storage that includes 80,000-square-feet of additional self-storage space. They are frustrated because review by the town of Basalt has dragged on for years. They hope to split review of the self-storage apart from the rest of the project so they can construct it as soon as possible, and satisfy some of the pent up demand.
If that doesn’t work, they will resort to Plan B. Crossland said they purchased land in the Silt area and are contemplating a mini-storage project there.
The business model for self-storage is nearly ideal. Construction costs are relatively low for low-frills buildings. There is an investment in security and lighting, but maintenance costs are manageable and staffing needs are low. Some self-storage complexes offer heated units, which adds to expenses and costs.
Despite that effective business model, it is unlikely many more storage facilities will be constructed in the Roaring Fork Valley because of soaring land costs, Crossland said. The 80,000 square feet he proposed will be stacked on two stories since land is at a premium.
Carbondale Mini Storage was one of the more recent entries in the market. It was developed in phases along County Road 100, the “back way” into Carbondale, and started renting units in 1999. It offers 485 units of various sizes totaling 82,000 square feet. It also offers a warehouse for industrial customers.
“We’re full,” said manager Paula Mosbarger. “We have a waiting list.”
Their prices recently increased, for the first time since they opened. Mosbarger said Carbondale Mini-Storage is competitive in the valley with a fee of $75 per month for a 5-by-10 foot unit and $275 for a 10-by-30 foot unit.
She said customers need self-storage for a variety of reasons. Many are people who are selling their homes, so they store many of their belongings to help with the presentation of the houses.
Other clients are building a house and staying in a smaller residence for the time being, so they need to store many of their possessions.
Mosbarger has a theory that house sizes are starting to decrease in parts of the valley and that people don’t have the space to store all their belongings. They need self-storage for their out-of-season possessions, perhaps putting away their lawn furniture during winters or a snowmobile during summers.
Some customers are frequent visitors to their units. Others just pay the bills but rarely stop by.
“We have people who putt stuff in and we never see them again. We don’t know what they have in there,” she said with a laugh.