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Personal storage has existed from earliest of times. While on a trip to Xian
China, Buz Victor, the founder of the Self-Storage Association, saw where the Chinese people stored their belongings in clay pots in public underground storage pits as far back as 6,000 years ago. John Yelland, one of the first self-storage pioneers in California, noted that when British banking institutions were asked to safeguard valuables for clients embarking on extended voyages, the bankers would seek space from the moving (drayage) companies. These drayage companies procured storage space in primitive lofts, which were a little better than stables. In the 1850s, the original moving and storage pioneers such as Bekins, devised the first warehouse specifically constructed for household goods and treasured personal items. Minneapolis Van Lines and Weimer Storage in Elizabeth, New Jersey were moving and storage companies that offered personal storage during the 1920s. Arthur Trachte, of Trachte Building Systems, built interconnected metal garages for "cars without homes" in 1928. Typically in these examples, the operator or landlord had responsibility for the items being stored. When a landlord or "warehouseman" takes "care, custody, and control," it creates a bailment arrangement with the customer, and the liability falls upon the warehouseman.

The switch to "self-storage" as we know it today, was started in the mid 1960s by the early pioneers such as Russ Williams, Bob Munn, Charles, Ronald, and Richard Bowyer, Louis Rochester and his many partners, Tom Brundage, Guy Robertson, and Sam Judge. To put their accomplishments into perspective, each of them was building prior to 1970. It was not until 1972 that Public Storage built their first facility in El Cajon, California.

Williams and his stepson Munn built the first self-storage facility in Texas called "A-1 U-Store-It U-Lock-It U-Carry the Key" in Odessa. Russ Williams worked his entire life in the oil industry, and in the 1960s he owned an oil industry service company. Russ and Bob were both avid fishermen, and they needed a place to store both their boats and their oil field equipment. Other firms in the oil industry also needed to have quick access storage for their equipment in the event of an emergency. According to Munn, Williams had seen some apartments somewhere with four to 10 garages side by side with common walls between them. (There was such a project in Irving, Texas built by Paul Nelson in 1962). Others have reported that Williams heard about the concept while ill in a hospital. Williams discussed the idea of building a storage facility with Louis Rochester in 1964. Rochester chose not to become a partner in the original building, but sold the land to Williams for that first facility.

The first facility was located in an industrial area and was 100 feet by 30 feet in size. The facility had asphalt drives and was built with block walls, block partitions and panel garage doors. The units were 10 feet by 30 feet to accommodate 24-foot bass boat trailers. To call attention to the facility, the building was painted yellow and the doors black. Williams observed that the residential customers wanted to store household items instead of boats. In attempt to keep up with the demand, Williams added on to the facility several times, and also added an office.

They built a second facility in a more residential area of Odessa and named it "A-1 U-Store-It Warehouses". Their third facility was built in 1966 in Midland, and it consisted of 300 storage units. Williams and Munn continued to build in the west Texas market in Monihans, and El Paso in 1969. Henry Taylor also built "AA Storage" in El Paso that same year. Friends of Munn and Williams, Stephen and Paul Payne of Lubbock started building their "A-ABC Self Storage", "A-1 U-Store-It", and "Aardvark Self Storage" in Lubbock in 1970.

Williams also formed a partnership with Foy Hall from Corpus Christi. The new facilities were being built under the registered name "A-1 U-Store-It Warehouse, Inc." In 1966 Foy Hall built his "A-1 U-Store-It" in McAllen, and had his son-in-law, Bob Mallory, manage the facility. Mr. Hall went on to build several others in south Texas, the first self-storage in Austin in 1967, and the first in Corpus Christi in 1969. Mallory suggested to an old Air Force friend, Gene Flesner from Colorado Springs, that he should get into the storage business. After checking it out, Mr. Flesner bought the name "U-Store-It" from Foy Hall. Starting in 1971 Flesner built at least two "U-Store-It" facilities in Colorado Springs, and Public Storage presently owns both facilities. Mr. Flesner also developed under the name "Valley Mini Storage." On the advice of his son who was going to school in Texas, Frank Blumeyer checked out both Mr. Hall’s Corpus facility, and Flesner’s facilities in Colorado. He then started building "A Storage Inn" facilities in St. Louis in 1972.

Charles Bowyer and his father saw the A-1 U-Store-It in Mc Allen, Texas, and they built their first "Stor-More" facility in their hometown of Brownsville in 1967. Charles and his brothers Richard and Ronald proceeded to build approximately 31 facilities throughout south Texas. Currently, most of these facilities are owned by Doug Mayer and are operated under the name "Best Little Warehouses In Texas." While visiting relatives in Fresno, California in 1968, Bowyer tried to obtain bank financing to build additional facilities. Though he was unsuccessful in getting financing, the bank officers seemed very intrigued with this new form of real estate. At approximately the same time, Derrel Ridenour started to build the "Derrel’s Mini Storage" in Fresno. It may only be a coincidence, but this appears to be the link to start of facilities in California.

Melvin "Dutch" Ehler, a retired colonel from the Air Force, lived in San Antonio, and while visiting a friend in south Texas, he saw this new concept of self-storage. Liking the concept, he formed a partnership with Frank Stanush to build the first facility in San Antonio on Loop 410 in 1969. Ehler and his wife, along with Stanush decided to name their facility "A-1 Self Storage," thus coining the term "self-storage." Several years later, the Ehlers agreed to sell a set of their plans to Don Daniels for $55.00 with the understanding that he would not build them in San Antonio. Daniels and his partner, Charles Barbo, built their first facility in Tumwater, Washington in 1974. This partnership later became "Shurgard Storage Centers."

A previous business partner with Frank Stanush, Tom Brundage saw the A-1 Self Storage, and in turn, he started building the "A-AAA Key Mini Warehouses" in 1969. Brundage typically built larger facilities, more in the range of 50,000 square feet. He also built more than one in a particular market. Approximately 38 A-AAA Keys have been built in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Illinois.

A facility called "A-OK Mini Storage" appears to be the first facility built in the Houston area in 1970. After seeing Foy Hall’s Corpus facility and the A-Ok Mini, Sam Judge built the second facility in Houston called "U Store Um" on South Shaver. Judge went on to build several others in Houston and five in the New York area. One of his projects was the first high-rise conversion in Yonkers, New York called "Big Yellow." Several other developers completed self-storage projects that year in Houston.

Shortly after Judge opened his first facility, Guy Robertson opened his first "Pilgrim Self Service Storage" on Gufton in Houston. The Pilgrims were typically large projects of 80,000 to 100,000 square feet, and many were two stories with stairs to the second level. Robertson went on to build approximately 40 Pilgrims in Houston, Dallas-Ft.Worth, Atlanta, and Indianapolis and other cities. Various operators including Sovran and Public Storage currently own all of the Pilgrims. In 1987, Robertson started Private Mini Storage. Private now has approximately sixty-four facilities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. Robertson has also been credited with building the first climate-controlled facility in 1987.

Though Pilgrim built twelve facilities in the Dallas and Ft. Worth area, the first in Tarrant County was by Richard Farrell. He had lived in Odessa and had seen the original "A-1 U-Store-It." When he moved to Arlington, he built the Lakewood Shopping Center and a self-storage facility in Pantego in 1968. C.B. Dodson built the "Mini Warehouse Company" in Arlington in 1969. A few years later, Charles Bowyer moved from Brownsville and started building "Stor-More" facilities in Tarrant County.

George Fields had seen the Russ Williams building in Odessa, and he formed a partnership with Bob R. Hudgin Jr. to build the first in Dallas County in 1968. While driving back from a trip to south Texas, Fields and his wife were trying to think of a simple name for the facility. At that time, mini-skirts were in vogue, and his wife suggested "Mini Warehouse." They registered the name "Mini Warehouse," and that was the name they chose for their new 55-unit facility located on Kirby in Garland. Fields visited the Bekins warehouse on East Mockingbird (now a Public Storage), where they rented individual spaces separated only by chicken wire. In order to set his rental rates, he took the Bekins’ prices and doubled them.

a small facility on Dalworth in Mesquite in 1969. Also in 1969, Jack Goodall and Van Ellis built two "Any-Fill Midget Warehouses." In that same year, the Stor-All’s were built in Irving. Mike Dyer, Paul Rawley, and Barton White were all early developers of self-storage in Dallas. In 1971, Alex Hudson of "American Warehouse Company" built "Stowaway Self Storage" on Sheila Lane. A year later, Norman and Pat Williamson started managing the Stowaway facility. They continued managing the property until July 2000, making them the longest continuous managers of a self-storage facility in the United States. One of their first tenants was Stanley Crossman, who later started developing the "The Attic Self Storage" facilities.

Probably the most influential pioneer in our industry was Louis Rochester. Rochester, as mentioned above, sold the land to Russ Williams for that first self-storage project in Odessa. Rochester, owner of Ector Shopping Centers Inc., was involved in many real estate activities. Observing Williams’ success, Rochester built his first "Colonial Warehouses" in San Angelo in 1969. He and his brother-in-law, Tom Murphy, went on to build approximately 25 facilities in West Texas and New Mexico. Later, under the name of "Colonial Storage Centers," Rochester also formed several partnerships with Mike Dyer (Dallas area), Norm Mason (North Carolina area), James Pruett (Mid-Cities and East Coast area), Charles and Fred Gatlin (Mid-Cities area), Joe Fugit (East Texas), and others.

Pruett noted that there was a general need to change the name from "warehouses" due to zoning and potential liability problems. The various partnerships built approximately 250 self-storage facilities throughout the United States. According to Rochester, Prudential Insurance provided the partnerships with financing with the requirement that their facilities were to be smaller in size (100 to 250 units) and generally one facility to each market area. At this early stage in self-storage, Prudential was not sure of how well the concept would be received by the public. Now, with between 30-40,000 facilities throughout the United States, we know that Russ Williams’ original concept of self-storage buildings has caught on.

By:John Darden
Texas Mini News
The Paul Darden Company

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