The view of Gilford Self Storage on East Drive, where Richard Letendre plans to open a newly constructed facility, Gilford Self Storage Toy Box and Climate Controlled Storage. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF
GILFORD — Richard Letendre has gone from receiving stares of confusion when applying for loans to finding himself immersed in demand, filling new storage units almost as fast as he can build them.
"When I first started approaching people and approaching banks to finance that property, I got laughed at," recalled Letendre, who said he's the oldest surviving storage-unit operator in the state.
When he opened in 1983, the concept of financing storage units seemed foreign to banks, he said.
Now, the region is in a mini construction boom for storage units, including Letendre's home base across from the Laconia Airport in Gilford.
"Years ago, when I went into the business, banks didn't know anything about the self-storage business," Letendre said.
Today, the storage business is big business.
Letendre hopes to open a newly constructed facility, Gilford Self Storage Toy Box and Climate Controlled Storage, on the hill behind his Gilford Self Storage on East Drive (https://www.nhselfstorage.com/gilford.php). Then, he plans to build boat storage nearby on Lake Shore Drive.
"I'm doing something totally new which is almost unique to the area," Letendre said, referring to the "toy box" concept.
The hillside facility features climate control units in the center of the building with a hallway that is keypad controlled. On the perimeter are "toy boxes," units 15 feet wide and 15 feet high and as deep as 40 feet with individual access. Customers will be able to winterize boats and motor homes in the individual units, rather than in a shared warehouse.
"I expect that within the month I'll be ready to have those units on the market," Letendre said.
Belmont is another place where storage units are gaining traction as a popular development.
The Belmont Zoning Board of Adjustments will hold an abutters' hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m., at Belmont Corner Meeting House, to discuss a request by Vault Motor Storage (https://vaultmotorstorage.com), based in Merrimack, to install climate-controlled storage with outdoor covered storage on Higgins Drive.
Candace Daigle, town planner for Belmont, said the Vault Motor Storage project needs a variance because of existing zoning regulations.
"This one, Vault Motor Storage, is in the industrial zone, and our ordinance does not allow boat storage in the industrial zone. That's why Vault is going to the ZBA," she said.
If approved by the Belmont Zoning Board, Vault's proposal would go to the planning board, tentatively as early as April.
The Higgins Drive site is vacant property created in the 1980s when a business park was built, Daigle said. The lot previously was approved for Hangtime Sports, which pursued site plan approval and a special exception for an indoor skate park. The park was never built.
Al Mitchell recently received approval to build climate-controlled self storage on Prescott Hill Road, which has yet to break ground. Mitchell, who owns Belmont Self Storage in Belmont, acquired the property on N.H. Route 106 atop Prescott Hill, which was left vacant following the closure of Lakes Chrysler Jeep, Ltd. in 2010.
Asked about the popularity of storage, Daigle said, "Society has changed, and I think they look for that type of amenity in the region, because of the seasonal housing we have here and because of the lakes."
Winnisquam Storage on Route 3 also has undergone expansion in the last few years, she noted.
"Many people are downsizing, and some of the things they want to keep may not fit in their downsizing plan," Daigle said.
Steven J. Paquin, code enforcement officer, building inspector and health officer for Belmont, has been appointed by the New Hampshire Building Officials Association to be on the International Code Council 2018 Code Committee for Tiny Houses.
Asked if the tiny house phenomenon could account for increased demand for storage, Paquin told the Daily Sun, "Personally I think the demand for storage units has more to do with the region we are in, not so much embracing of tiny homes. We live in a region that is based on tourism and summer homes, we get the same families returning year after year, and the storage unit makes traveling easier. Tiny homes are just starting to make a push, and I cannot imagine the current demand for storage is driven by them. Will we see a larger demand down the road? Time will tell."
Sarah Allaire, manager at Landmark Self Storage (www.storenh.com), hears anecdotal evidence of why people want storage.
"When people come in they usually tell a story," she said.
Many customers are selling their second home or condo in the area, and storage allows them to list and show their properties. Shorter-term storage demand can involve projects at a residence, such as renovations, where furniture or vehicles would be in the way and it's easier to store it.
Landmark Self Storage, located across the street from the Laconia Police Station at 206 Fair St. and across from the Court House at 77 Court St., offers more than 300 units combined, with about half for commercial rentals and half for residential storage. The business also offers outside storage for vehicles and boats.
Allaire said in the outside vehicle and boat storage area, she has only three empty spaces right now because two of the renters went south, while one preferred to park their vehicle at home.
"I had to turn a lot of people away," she said of the past year.
"For a good 10 months last year I didn't have a single unit available," Allaire said.
A rash of departures broke this trend late last fall, but in general, Allaire saw an 85 percent occupancy rate increase in the last three years, with occupancy finally hovering at 95 to 97 percent, and last year reaching 100 percent.
Steve Cotran, a real estate agent who has embarked on renting storage units as a second income, said a year ago he hired a consultant to conduct a study and found a need for indoor storage. Cotran installed units and opened Paugus Bay Self Storage (www.paugusbayselfstorage.com) at the Paugus Bay Plaza in Gilford.
"We have some units rented. We installed 60 units, and we have about a dozen rented. We get a new person every week just about, and we've been open for about 12 weeks," he said.
"There's a whole lot of self storage that's going up as well, I'm not sure what the absorption rate is going to be," Cotran said.
Cotran said his customers include people who were downsizing to fit into a 55-plus community.
"There's a lot of downsizing going on with all the empty-nesters not needing their big homes anymore," Cotran said.
At Four Seasons Self Storage in Meredith, owner Roger Nash said, "It's been a very active year with good occupancy rates."
Four Seasons Self Storage (www.fourseasonsstorage.info) answer the need for customers who are renovating their homes or moving, and for summer people, Nash said.
An advertisement he wrote put the need simply: "A place to store your summer stuff during the winter and your winter stuff during the summer."
In Laconia, new boat storage facilities have tried to keep up with demand. Laconia Assistant Planner Brandee Loughlin said no applications are in the review process right now, but that could change.
"What we've been hearing from a lot of the marinas is that there's a greater demand for storage," she said.
Not every project clears the regulatory hurdles. In December, the Laconia Zoning Board of Adjustment voted down a proposal to build a heated indoor storage facility on Watson Road near its intersection with U.S. Route 3 at The Weirs; this request was the second such — both from Vault Storage — to fail to gain relief from a prohibition against indoor motor vehicle storage in the city's Commercial-Resort District. Earlier in 2015, Vault Storage had sought to build on the old Surfcoaster property at the corner of Endicott Street East (Rte. 11-B) and White Oaks Road.
Jeffrey R. Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, noted housing trends could explain the demand. "I know that household size continues to decrease and that more people are renting vs. buying homes so that might be a contributor," he reported.
On a personal basis, Letendre said classic cars and boats are high-price investments that people want to protect from the elements, and climate control storage allows customers to park their recreational vehicles without going to the trouble of draining them and removing stockpiles of food from the cabinets.
"I've had a lot of requests from boat dealers because we need additional space for boat storage," Letendre said. "They're dying for space to store boats through the winter months."
Likewise, RV owners will go where they can find storage.
"I've had people here from Gilford who stored their motor homes with us down in Hooksett," Letendre said.
Besides Gilford and Hooksett, Letendre's company, Northeast Self Storage Inc., offers storage in Meredith, Franklin, Wolfeboro and Manchester. Letendre didn't see the demand slowing down.
"We need this, there's no question about it," he said.
Real estate agent Steve Cotran opened storage units at the Paugus Bay Plaza in Gilford. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
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