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Storage units becoming as hard to get as affordable housing as wealthy remote workers take over the high country

Waitlists are growing for tens of thousands of storage lockers in mountain communities as new homeowners arrive, residents relocate and local workers scramble for rental homes.

Sopris Self Storage user Mackenzie Sexton shuts the door to the room of units on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Carbondale, CO. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
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Chase Beck has fielded dozens of calls like this in the past few months. 

“They say ‘I just had the floor taken out from under me. I’ve been living here for years. I need to move out in 30 days and I’ve got nowhere to go. Can you help?’” Beck says.

The waiting list at his family’s All Valley Storage in Frisco is long, same as their Breckenridge facility. 

“I feel their pain and I really do try to prioritize the locals, especially if they are teachers or essential workers, you know,” Beck says. “I have five public school teachers who are renting units from me because they live in their vehicle and their storage unit is their closet. I don’t want to chase them out of the county any more than they are already being chased out.”

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Across the Western Slope, owners and managers at storage facilities are seeing unprecedented demand. Wait lists are longer than ever, and available units are rented in a matter of hours. As the housing crunch worsens and locals lose their homes to waves of deep-pocketed, work-from-anywhere newcomers, the search for a place to store stuff is just as desperate as the search for a place to sleep.

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The managers and owners of storage lockers have become the final backstop for locals who are being forced from their communities. 

“It’s like their closet. I just helped a guy out who was living in his van. He was living in there with all his stuff. It was such a sad story,” says Kris Travis, the 12-year manager of Gunnison’s Discount Self Storage, which has rented all its 700 units, including RV parking spots. 

Actually, says Travis, there’s one 5-by-5 unit that will be open tomorrow. 

“I made some calls already,” she says. “It will be rented in a few minutes.” 

Sopris Self Storage site manager Jessica Kidd walks through a hall of 25-square-foot units on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Carbondale, CO. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

A lot of storage facilities in resort communities have regular customers. Owners of sports shops use rental lockers to hold bikes in the winter and skis in the summer. Furniture shops and restaurants store patio furniture in the cold months. This year, residential business is booming. 

All of the Western Slope storage companies contacted by The Colorado Sun — in Avon, Carbondale, Frisco, Granby, Gunnison, Montrose, Ridgway and Steamboat Springs — said they were totally full. Several are planning expansions.

Sopris Self Storage in Carbondale will add a three-story, 300-unit facility to its 266 units next year. Other storage companies in the Roaring Fork Valley are expanding as well. 

The uptick in demand began late last year during the pandemic when newcomers were flooding mountain valleys. 

“We’ve been in a housing crunch for a few years. It’s always been tight around here but last year it got a whole lot tighter,” says Sopris Self Storage manager Jessica Kidd. 

During the recession in 2010 and 2011, Kidd was forced to keep people from trying to live in their units. “Knock on wood, we haven’t seen that happen this year.”

There’s another factor at play in the booming storage scene, Kidd says. All the new worker housing that has come online in recent years is small. People are saving money by moving into smaller homes. The tiny home and vanlife trends continue to be popular. 

“In Colorado, especially on the Western Slope, people have a lot of gear and toys. Bikes, kayaks, skis. And a lot of the new housing does not have storage,” Kidd said. “People are in a bind in this trend toward smaller and smaller homes.”

Ski town locals have used storage facilities like closets for decades. After a busy ski season, it’s common for some workers to leave or work elsewhere and store their stuff in a locker until the snow starts falling later in the year. 

That’s not changed much for Central Park Management in Steamboat Springs, which manages both residential properties and thousands of storage units in Routt County. But the surge in real estate sales in Routt, which saw a record-setting $1.3 billion change hands in 2020, has spiked demand for storage.

“We are certainly busy, probably busier than we have seen in the last couple years,” says Central Park owner Ben Weaver. “It’s not necessarily people leaving town as much as the big fluctuation in real estate.” 

Jessica Kidd, the manager at Carbondale’s Sopris Self Storage, has rented all 266 units and the facility’s owners are planning an expansion (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

All 300 of the units at AAA Mini Storage in Avon were fully rented by April. Usually, the facility is full by midsummer, so this spring is the earliest ever for 100% occupancy, manager Juanita Breitzman said.

She’s seeing a mix of locals and wealthier homeowners storing their stuff while their home is renovated. But this year, there are more locals needing storage, she said. 

“I probably get 15 calls a day from people looking,” she says. “It’s very unusual. Honestly it’s getting scary. There are so many locals leaving the valley because they don’t have a place to live. I feel like more would be leaving if not for a place like this.”


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