With the rising demand for storage in urban areas and the scarcity of open land in cities for commercial development, building conversion has been an increasingly popular option for expansion in the self storage and mini storage industry. Converting an empty building for storage use can offer many benefits, the foremost of which is placing a facility in an area already densely populated by residents and businesses, offering them a convenient storage location that is closer than the edge of town or suburbs. Many times you are also doing the neighborhood a favor by taking a dilapidated building and giving it new purpose; no one likes rundown, empty retail space in his or her community. This can be especially true of big-box retailers that have since moved on or closed completely. The good news is that these types of spaces (whether they were electronics stores, general retail giants, grocery chains, or even video rental locations) usually have a warehouse-like interior that is most readily converted for self-storage.

Abandoned Retail

Some storage facility owners are reporting savings up to 30% over what it would have cost them to build everything from the ground up, but keep in mind that this is not always the case. When considering a site for construction, it is important to consider how much repairs and construction of units would cost. You should pay extra attention to max foundation loads and roof integrity, as some foundations are not built to handle the weight per square foot that storage units can have, and tenants and operators alike hate leaking roofs! Also take note of existing HVAC systems to see if they can be utilized in your storage units. Before becoming too involved in the process, make sure to check local zoning regulation, and if the area is not zoned to allow storage, ask a city official if it would be possible to rezone the building. Oftentimes the city will be excited about eliminating a vacant storefront and revitalizing the space, which makes them much more likely to allow changes to zoning code.


Many properties have a large, flat, and paved parking lot – with much more space than is required for a storage facility. These are a great opportunity for further development with more traditional storage, or to rent out space to other businesses. You must remember: using an existing building usually will not allow you to easily provide rows of units with drive-up access, so carefully plan your parking and loading points. Another challenge could be making your space eye-catching while not obscuring the buildings purpose; people recognize storage facilities because they generally follow a similar layout and aesthetic. Don’t miss an opportunity to make architecture work for your business!

The high traffic and dense populations found around big-box retailers could certainly be a great business opportunity, and even a bad building in a great location could be a wise investment. Each option has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Maybe traffic on the edge of town - or out of town completely - will still attract the right amount of tenants, and moving into a more urban setting doesn’t make sense in your business model. Maybe there are attractive empty lots, or it would be easier to tear down an old structure and build new; just because one way of expanding business works for a particular self-storage company does not mean it will work for you in your market.

In the end it all comes down to economics. Does the decision to repurpose an old grocery store into a mini-storage facility make good business sense? It may not, but you won’t hear many people complaining about having options.

Featured photo courtesy Chrstphre on Flickr Photo courtesy Fire at Will Photography on Flickr Map courtesy Municipality of Delčevo