The dim, musty confines of the attic used to be the repository of America’s past. This and that, superannuated by more current versions, found quiet sanctuary in the attic; but no more. There are no more attics, or at least not very many in modern houses.
So where do we store great grandma’s dress form, and those old rubber boots that leak, and boxes of old clothes that we saving to donate to the church rummage sale? At one of the friendly, neighborhood storage facilities that seem to have popped up like toadstools after a rain on every corner.
“There was just a need for storage,” said Lynda Borah, the regional manager for Five Star Storage in Denison. She was explaining the booming growth of storage facilities in the area. “People were moving into Denison, not having the room to store their belongings, so there we are. People also have more cars, and if they can’t park their cars in the driveway, they leave their cars and RVs with us.”
Five Star has storage facilities in Van Alstyne and Sherman. The Denison operation has 369 units, some indoor, some outdoor, some climate controlled, others not. The largest unit is 10 feet x 30 feet, and the smallest is 5-feet x 5-feet. RVs are stored under a covered concrete pavilion.
While Borah does not know what goes in the units, some items are forbidden — flammable materials such as gasoline, guns and ammunition, and hazardous materials of any type. Circular padlocks, which cannot be cut with bolt cutters, are required, and the facility has active security systems in place 24 hours a day.
People need storage for all manner of reasons. One common need comes from new homeowners, Borah said.
“People want to build a house or remodel a house and they need a place to store their furniture and other belongings, so they will store with us and when their home is finished, they’ll move the things back in.”
But not all of Five Star’s customers are short term.
“We have some people who have been here since we opened in 2004,” Borah said.
One of the most asked questions about storage facilities arises from people who have watched the reality-TV show “Storage Wars.” Do the facilities really auction off the contents of abandoned units, and have buyers found fabulous treasures behind the padlocked doors? The answers according to Borah, yes, and not so much. Yes, after a certain period of time, the contents of abandoned units are sold at auction, but the great finds of reality-TV are mostly fiction. The rules for dealing with defaults are governed by the contract and the guidelines of the Texas Self-Storage Association, and in some instances by state law.
“I try everything I can to find them [the renters],” Borah said. “I do background checks and try any other way we can think of to find them. If that fails, we send out a claim notice, then an auction notice, and run a notice in the newspaper twice. If nothing turns them up, I do an auction here. I usually do the auctions at all three locations on the same day about once a month.”
Before the auction, Borah said she cuts the lock and does an inventory of the unit, although she does not examine boxes, crates, and the like. Like the TV show, bidders can look into the unit but may not examine the contents more closely before bidding. Anyone is welcome to bid. Winning bidders are required to clean out the contents as soon as possible.
“The highest bid we ever got for a unit was $2,500 and the lowest was $1,” said Borah. “If nobody bids, I buy it for a dollar and have to pay someone to haul off the stuff. I know one buy found some pretty valuable gold coins in a unit once, but most of the time it’s just junk. People don’t usually abandon valuable things. We lose money on units we have to auction, but then we can rent it again.”
Renting it again is important. Right now, the Denison location is more than 90 percent full.
Some storage facilities have on-site managers who actually live on the property. Deborah Smith is the manager of Keyport Self-Storage in Sherman, and she lives on the site.
“I have a very nice apartment and very big backyard,” she said. “We have 551 spots counting the parking places, but we’re pretty much full. We’re one on the oldest storage facilities in Sherman; these were built back in the 70s, and some of our customers have been here that long. We have some people who have been here more than 20 years.”
Smith has managed Keyport for 11 years and during that time she has seen customers come and go and come back again.
As to what goes in the units, Smith said self-storage units are different from warehouses.
“If we were warehouse men, we would have to have the knowledge of what is actually in a unit, but we’re not,” she said. “We just rent a space, and it’s none of my concern what you put in there as long as it’s not dangerous.”
Smith handles defaulted units in much the same way as Five Star, but because of the expense involved, she said she does not hold auctions every month. Turnouts for the auctions very; for an auction in June, only five people showed up, and not all of them bid, but she has had as many as 25 turnout. And there are a few regulars who will be there most of the time. The most valuable find she could recall was a man who bought a unit for $100 and found two remote controlled, gasoline powered model cars worth about $400 each. But that sort of find is rare. What’s not rare is mattresses.
“We find more mattresses than just about anything,” she said.
“Selling the units can be traumatic for the owners, and it’s traumatic for me. We’ll do everything we can to work with people, but sometimes we have no other choice but to sell the contents.”
And as for all those hidden treasures like you see on television. While it is not impossible, it is not likely, so don’t believe it. Like most of reality-TV, it’s more fake than real.
As Texoma grows, the need for storage seems to grow at an even faster pace. Several new facilities are under construction now, and doubtless more will come. And sooner rather than later, those units will be filled, and we will still be asking the question, “Where did they put all of this stuff before?