Pittsburgh's Brand-New, 107-Year-Old Self-Storage Business: A Conversion Tale

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We benefited tremendously from the open floor plan of the building, which included high ceilings and wide hallways perfectly sized for the initial build out of 80 climate-controlled units, with 40 on the first floor and an additional 40 on the fifth floor. All we needed to do was paint the walls and floors and install an intelligent, energy-efficient lighting system that responded to motion and sound.

However, we had to create our office and storefront from scratch, and this is where much of the construction effort went. We wanted a clean, welcoming, modern look for our office—a place where customers could not only store with us, but relax, have a cup of coffee and potentially even do some work.

We selected a raw bay on the first floor that faced the street and the flow of traffic. The storefront consists of large windows that were built to match the building’s original turn-of-the-century architecture. To ensure security, our architect cleverly hid automatic steel roll-up doors above the storefront windows that close at night. Our welcoming, IKEA-furnished office and customer-registration workstation are the perfect complement to the 107-year-old historic structure.

Lighting in the hallways is trigged by motion-sensors switch lights to eliminate unnecessary energy usage.We took advantage of an existing separate room and turned it into a conference room to which we added free Wi-Fi and a coffee maker. On weekends, children play and color while their parents do the heavy work of moving in and out. On weekdays, our mobile business customers use it as a remote office. We even provide free access to the conference room for community groups and neighborhood associations. It’s been a great way to increase exposure and become a vital part of the neighborhood.

A complete security system was installed, with remote camera feeds from the entire facility streamed to a large monitor in the office. Real-time temperature and humidity monitors were placed on both floors, and data is collected and analyzed continuously. A new ADA (American With Disabilities Act)-compliant bathroom was installed, and the original freight elevators were sanded and repainted to match the rest of the office color scheme. We even documented the entire construction process with our iPhones and turned it into a promotional video. Since opening, we’ve added 25 units and have room and plans for an additional 1,000.

Alternative Funding

We funded our Pittsburgh storage business ourselves. No banks, no outside investors and no loans from family members. If you keep your ears and eyes open, sometimes you can literally “find money.” That’s what happened to us.

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