Storing Craig

Storage units used for cars, clothes, maybe even sleeping

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Joyce Swaney isn't certain there was a man living in the storage units she manages, but she's suspects there was.

It was night, and she was making the rounds of Craig Self Storage when she noticed a door without a lock. She tried to open it, but someone on the other side was holding it shut.

The man said he was rearranging things, but Swaney was spooked and went next door to get the help of a big, strong friend. Together, they told the man through the door that he couldn't sleep there.

Most people don't use their storage units for sleeping. (Although Swaney did say she thinks entire families lived in storage units during Craig's boom years in the 1980s.)

However, people store an endless array of items in storage units, from magazines and clothes to cars and boats.

"We're the storage unit capital," Shelly Chamberlain, manager of Fourth Street Storage Center, said of Craig.

Indeed, Craig is inundated with storage units. There are nine storage unit facilities listed in Craig's Yellow Pages. Although the city is surrounded by ranches and open space, most of Craig's storage units are nearly at maximum capacity.

The Fourth Street Storage Center opened in June, and already all of its 10-foot by 20-foot units, the ones large enough to hold cars, are full, Chamberlain said. Some of the smaller upstairs units are empty, but she guesses that people aren't interested in carrying their stored items up a flight of stairs. When the owners have made some money on the storage units, they plan to install an elevator.

Because the Fourth Street Storage Center is so new, Chamberlain said she doesn't have any stories to tell. The storage center hasn't had to auction anyone's belongings for nonpayment or evict sleeping renters. But Chamberlain figures she'll have stories to tell in a year's time.

Nikora Myers sells breakfast burritos and grilled brats and hot dogs in front of the storage center. She keeps her grill, vending supplies and a refrigerator stocked with food in a 10-foot by 10-foot storage unit only feet from where she sets up.

"For this business, it's real convenient," Myers said.

While vending, Myers watches renters access their units all day long.

In the front lots, renters keep a hoard of items stored away. They haul them out on the weekends for garage sales. Several nearby businesses, including Black Mountain Glass, which is across the street, keep equipment stashed in storage units.

And the space is popular among out-of-town hunters, who store four-wheelers during the off-season. Hunters likewise store equipment they needed while on the road to Craig, but that becomes unnecessary in the field, Chamberlain said.

As for the number of storage units in Craig, Myers theorized the city and county helped fill them by enforcing their zoning ordinances. Old items city residents once would have left on a lot have to be hid from view now, so people rent storage units for them.

Similarly, the city building code requires licensed contractors to build all garages. The homeowner no longer can build his or her own garage. Some city residents might consider it easier to rent a storage unit than to hire a contractor.

Tyler Correia manages several storage units in Craig, including Northwest Storage west of the city. That facility has recently remodeled, adding surveillance cameras and a security gate.

Northwest Storage is at about 85 percent of its capacity. That's about average, Correia said. When the winter hits, only an additional 1 percent will be filled, he said.

While Northwest Storage has had to auction the belongings of some renters who defaulted on their payments, Correia estimated the company only has had to do so in about 0.5 percent of all cases.

Generally, the auctioned items aren't worth much, he said. When he opens a unit, he'll find personal items, such as family photo albums and old clothes.

Craig Self Storage is planning an auction for Sept. 18, Swaney said. Sometimes storage unit owners will separate valuable items from personal items before the auctions, while other times they auction the entire contents of a unit as one whole.

One of the units that could be auctioned if the renter fails to pay is stuffed from wall to wall. Another contains only one box of clothes. Sometimes renters remove all their valuables from a unit and leave the rest to be auctioned months later, but most people are more courteous than that, Swaney said.

And regardless of what someone keeps in a storage unit, the true value can only be qualified by the items' owners.

"To us it's junk, but to them it might be all they have," Swaney said.

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