Looking for a place to call home

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

COURTLAND—Perhaps one of the fastest growing industries in Western Tidewater is self-storage facilities.

“Yes, sir, absolutely,” said David Joyner of I.G.P. Mini Storage on General Mahone Highway in Ivor.

A.J. Sears of ABC Storage on Armory Drive in Franklin started with 22 units in 1984 and now has more than 500 units renting on monthly contracts, or longer.

James Green of Southampton Self Storage on Jerusalem Road was, he says, the “original one in the Courtland area” to open and has plans under way to construct his 14th building, that one to be partially climate-controlled. Green said he doesn’t know off-hand how many units he has on the property but that he expands “every year, year and a half.”

And building permits for at least two other buildings are in the pipeline at the Southampton County offices, one on Ivor Road and another along Route 58 east of Courtland.

Another potential site in Franklin is held up by the zoning process, according to Chris Sewell, owner/operator of the Sewell Corp. that is building College Square at the corner of College and Stewart drives.

Jay Randolph, assistant county administrator of Southampton County, said the storage business is relatively maintenance-free and is easy to secure zoning approval, once the property is zoned for business, either B1 or B2.

“From a zoning perspective,” Randolph said, such facilities would be discouraged from building along major thoroughfares because of the traffic concerns, and because that’s a prime retail location.

Joyner of Ivor said he built he facility for between $6 to $8 per square foot, including concrete. And once the building is up, there is little additional work to be done.

“They don’t eat, they don’t sleep, there’s no electricity, no water,” he said, meaning the upkeep is minimal.

And, said Joyner, the industry keeps growing.

“You’d think you’d be hurting another business” by expanding, he said. “But everybody gets filled.”

So why is the business growing?

The answers offered by the owners are varied.

Some say people simply have a lot of “stuff” these days and don’t want to throw it away.

“People don’t want to throw anything away,” said Joyner. “I think we’ve learned from our pre-war parents” the value of holding onto furniture, clothes, possessions.

“There are numerous, numerous, numerous,” reasons, said Green.

“People need, as much as anything,” additional storage, he said. Businesses rent to keep records off-site, individuals in transit because of job relocations, divorces.

In Green’s case, “one reason I’m in storage is because I’m in construction,” he said, and building new units keeps his crews working while providing the business with another source of revenue.

“It’s definitely not like it used to be with the influence of people coming into the area,” said Sears of ABC Storage.

Some older parents move from a house that was big enough for an entire family into a smaller house and have furnishings left over. Rather than sell them at yard sale prices, the furnishings get stored.

“I think people has a change of heart” and want to keep more possessions, said Sears.

On the other hand, some families, particularly younger families getting started, find they can’t afford the high living expenses and move in with parents or grandparents.

“Lots of grandparents are raising families these days,” Joyner said.

Another reason is businesses find it cheaper to store item rather than construct storage buildings. Green said tools, equipment, vehicles need a place for storage.

Said Joyner: They can store their equipment in an economical way.”

Joyner said he’s also seeing hunters store their campers for months at a time, to retrieve them when hunting season opens.

In short, there are no quick answers why people in this area are looking for storage areas.

“This,” Joyner said, “has been going on in Tidewater for years.”