The Organized Life

The Largest Public Storage in the World Turns Three in NYC

When it came time to start a family, Alan Sira was happy his two young daughters could call The Bronx home, just as he had proudly done his whole life.

But like many parents, as his family grew, so did his stash of stuff. After a thorough spring cleaning this year, he realized he didn’t have the room to comfortably fit everything he wanted to keep. So he turned to self storage for his camping equipment and other seasonal gear. The girls’ pink dresses and headbands remained at home of course.

“The family grows, things add up in your life and you need to make more room in your house,” Sira said.

For help, he chose the biggest, brightest, storage facility around, owned by the largest storage company: Public Storage 385 Gerard Avenue, Bronx. Like everyone who drives past on I-87, across the Harlem River from Manhattan, Sira knew the location by sight. It’s been in this spot since Public Storage converted a 100-year-old former warehouse three years ago this month into self storage for Manhattan, The Bronx and other boroughs of NYC.

What Sira may not know is that the 12-story building is also a giant orange beacon of change, for New York City and other urban areas. Storage companies all over are building bigger to address social issues: higher rents, smaller affordable apartments (with less closet space) and a national nostalgia for our stuff.

Manhattan Storage Helps Residents Adapt to Tight Quarters

Sira is just one of many turning to storage as a way to adapt to a housing squeeze. It’s harder now than it was for earlier generations to move to a bigger place when your family grows. This is especially true if you live in a place like New York City, and especially in Manhattan, where many Gerard Avenue customers live.

The median rent on an apartment went up 75 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to a housing study by the City of New York. And a typical, one-bedroom apartment is 750 square feet and $2,700 per month. Rent is even higher in the borough of Manhattan, according to Naked Apartments, an area rental site owned by the Zillow Group. In the rest of the country rents have also gone up an average of 44 percent.

“You can work in New York, but finding a place (to live) is extremely hard,“ agreed Christine Gupton, a Public Storage property manager at Gerard Avenue and a Brooklyn native. “(Our customers) always have to downsize, and we always stay busy.“

The problem is getting worse as the population in all boroughs increases faster than it has since the 1920’s, by about 4.6 percent, according to the last U.S. census. But that’s only one issue pushing more New Yorkers into storage.

Newly-built, affordable housing is also smaller on average. When the first “micro apartments“ in Manhattan were constructed over a year ago, for example, they required a special permit for units smaller than previously allowed: 250 to 350 square feet, which were advertised for up to $3,000 a month.

Larger luxury apartments for wealthier residents here and in other cities are contributing to the shrinking of space for more “affordable“ places in town, said Moshe Adler, a Columbia University urban planning professor and author of Economics for the Rest of Us. Entrepreneurs are investing in large, expensive pieces of real estate, a safer bet than financial markets some believe. Some of these investors are using the land for new, larger homes for the well-heeled.

“Because their apartments are getting bigger, the apartments for everyone else are getting smaller,“ Adler said. “If you don’t have money, you have to pay a higher price for a smaller apartment.“

Bigger Self Storage in New York City and Beyond

With a trend like this, it’s understandable that a growing number of the 8.5 million who live in NYC are turning to outside help to store what they can’t fit into their snack-sized, urban apartments, and why storage companies are building bigger to accommodate them.

And of course the self-storage industry is adjusting to accommodate these additional customers, in New York and other areas. The number of square feet of storage space in this market alone has grown by about 12.5 percent in the last five years, according to the Self Storage Association, an industry trade group.

Storage companies around the country are also building bigger. Currently, the average facility offers 57,000 square feet of rentable storage space. However, now most new self storage construction is more than 70,000 square feet in major cities, according to the association.

The Public Storage Gerard Avenue location has more than 270,000 rentable square feet. And the company is also building bigger than it ever did in other parts of the country as well; it opened its second largest storage facility ever in Irvine, Southern California, in June.

“The population density in New York has shown us we can fill up and sustain occupancy at a flagship location like Gerard Avenue,” said Doug Mesmer, the senior regional manager who helps oversee the property. “This blueprint succeeds where residential homes and apartments have high rent with limited living space.”

Storage So You Don’t Have to Declutter

Self storage has also become the to-go clutter solution for many, because sometimes it’s not as easy as just throwing away old belongings when there’s no more room to keep them.

“I believe many Americans are anxious that if they throw something out, they might need it in the future,” said New York-based psychologist Mark Banschick said. “Most people look at their stuff and get overwhelmed. It’s too much. And since they can find space (in self-storage facilities), it’s a good way to avoid anxiety and change.”

It’s like Linus from the Peanuts gang and his blanket, Banschick said.

“The human mind needs change in order to grow, but the human spirit doesn’t like change. It likes to hold onto things because it makes human beings feel more secure.”

And with New York City’s population expected to grow to 9 million by 2040, according to a City report, it looks like New Yorkers will need even more extra space for all of their stuff. Many also use it for businesses, which pay a premium for inventory space in Manhattan and other areas.

“My experience has been very positive,” said Arlene Angard, a Manhattan art gallery owner who now rents two units at the Gerard Avenue building to store furniture and other items. “The price is right; the service is right, and the location is right.”