Local, nationwide increased demand spurs construction of storage facilities

Ever since Joe Delaney entered the storage facility industry in 2012, he has seen the demand for storage spaces steadily increase.

Seippel Road Storage, which Delaney owns with his wife, Linda, operates three storage buildings along with outdoor parking for campers and boats. The business recently received a building permit to construct a fourth building at 950 Seippel Place in Dubuque, to be completed in October.

“We had filled up to the point where people were on our waiting list for a month or two before we could get them in,” Delaney said.

The Delaneys are far from the only business owners responding to an increased demand for storage.

Mike McDonough operates McMATT Properties with his wife, Angie, his brother, Tim, and Tim’s wife, Tina. The McDonoughs are constructing a 47-unit storage facility at 725 John Drive in Monticello, slated to open Oct. 1.

Mike has owned 56 storage units in Monticello since 1993 and added 11 units in the fall of 2020.

“I got them done Oct. 1 (of 2020), and I had 11 people that were lined up to go in,” he said.

He is opening the latest facility in response to this soaring demand, particularly for larger units that can accommodate trailers, boats and other vehicles. Mike said he already has received about 15 inquiries to rent space in the facility.

Increased storage unit occupancy is a nationwide trend with various causes, said Seth Green, owner of Green Acres Storage. The business operates seven locations across Iowa, including a 550-unit facility at 2126 Holliday Drive in Dubuque.

“With the pandemic and being stuck at home, individuals have been cleaning out to make more usable space,” Green said. “Lots of people started working from home, and maybe they had a spare room that was full of storage, (but) they had to make that their home office, so they got a storage unit.”

Green said the storage industry was operating at about 85% to 90% occupancy prior to the pandemic. Even a small increase in demand — such as displaced college students who left their dorms or homeowners stuck between houses as they waited for lumber prices to decline — left units busting at the seams.

“Our waiting list has gone up at all of our locations except for Ankeny,” he said. “We maybe would have 10 or 15 (people on the waiting list). Now, we’re probably at 20 to 25.”

Green added that, especially at Green Acres’ Cedar Rapids facilities, people whose homes were damaged in last summer’s derecho sought space to store belongings.

Although global crises and natural disasters certainly affected people’s storage needs, Delaney said many of his current customers cite the same reasons for using his facilities as they did when he opened in 2012.

“It’s … a mix of people that just want to store their excess stuff that won’t fit in their garage and basement and people that are in between moves,” he said.

At least one local expert also sees a psychological factor influencing citizens’ storage needs.

Tim Boffeli, associate professor of psychology at Clarke University, is a licensed mental health counselor who has worked with hoarders. Although he said many people who use storage units do so for healthy reasons, he feels all humans have an innate tendency to create emotional attachments to things, including physical possessions.

“We form an emotional relationship to these inanimate objects, and then, it’s painful for us to get rid of them,” Boffeli said. “And now that we’ve got this option for storage, we don’t have to go through that pain.”

He said a desire to store items, even if they rarely are seen or used, also can stem from a “just-in-case” attitude.

“They think there’s some future use for (the object), and just in case there is that future use, they want to maintain it,” he said, describing a friend who filled a storage unit with cardboard for this reason.

Others simply might enjoy knowing they possess so many items, Boffeli said.

“We all like to feel like we have a lot of resources,” he said. “… To me, that goes back to wealth (and) that feeling of, ‘I’ve got a lot of stuff, and I feel good about it.’”

Green doesn’t know if the current popularity of storage units will persist.

“I would love to think it’s for the long haul, but I don’t want to be too optimistic about it,” he said.

However, he and his fellow facility owners are confident there always will be a need for their services, whether it’s due to a deep-seated need to preserve one’s possessions or a life event such as moving to a new house.

McDonough pointed out that several people have rented space in his storage units for more than 20 years.

“It seems like once people are in (a storage unit), if you price it right, they’re going to stay there,” he said.