With winter on the way, North Pole residents need not worry about where they’re going to store everything when it’s time to park the car in the garage — Forbes Storage has it covered.

The business sits at St. Nicholas Drive, a large, stone-colored building with diamonds patterned along the side. Between short-term tenants who rent a unit while moving and long-time customers who store their vehicles over the winter, the company has housed a variety of belongings.

“Grandma’s urn has been in here; Harley Davidsons; their most prized possession; maybe even their Hot Wheels from when they were a toddler,” said Ben Otis, general manager.

The Otis family bought the storage company in 2000 and has owned it since then. In the early 2000s they added more storage units. Ben took on more management duties in the 2010s.

“It’s fun. It’s challenging at times,” he said. “You know I was fortunate enough that I had a number of years with it being in the family that I got to learn the ropes.”

Olivia, Ben’s wife, worked in an administrative assistant type of position until recently. She started in the business around the time she met Ben in 2010, she said, but since having a baby, she now works with accounts payable and accounts receivable, dealing with the company’s books.

“I’m still in the office periodically,” she said, adding that she comes in a few times a week.

Olivia said the company seems to always be busy.

“Every day it’s something different here, so that’s kind of nice. We also have the copy fax services, e-mail, so that, you know you get a lot of people in here for that,” she said.

Olivia also helps with Santa’s Letters, a nonprofit housed in the Forbes Storage office, which brings letters written to Santa Claus to volunteers. The office takes in several thousand letters each year.

“You know if we’re not busy in the office, we’re doing the Santa’s Letters, which keep us busy all year round,” she said.

Ben says he spends a lot of his time at the storage facility working on maintenance. He does snow removal, major repairs, fixes the doors and handles other requests as they’re brought to him.

Sharon Beeman, who has been working at Forbes Storage for a few years now, helps oversee day-to-day operations.

“Basically we sell security,” she said.

Beeman sits at the front desk. When people come in to rent space, she’s one of the workers who can help them determine what size unit they need based on what they want to store and whether they’ll want to get a unit inside or outside.

The storage units cover a wide range of needs. Sizes range from what could essentially be a closet to a storage unit customers can literally park a car in. All units are locked, complete with an alarm that signals police dispatch if the unit owner didn’t punch in their passcode at the gate.

“I’m not quite sure how other people look at storage facilities, but I think we look at it like we’re holding people’s lives, so we respect them and their belongings,” Beeman said. “I know how I would feel if my belongings were in storage, so we try and take good care.”

She said that as added security, renters are required to have their own lock, for which they are the only ones with the key, including the company. Employees do walkthroughs, sometimes up to three times a week, but at least once per week, to check on the locks and make sure the units are secure.

There are more than 800 units in total, including warm units and cold units. The units themselves are virtually identical: open spaces with a concrete floor, and big, metal, garage door-type openings that renters can padlock shut. However, the warm units are indoors and kept at a consistent room temperature, while the outside storage units are at ambient temperature.

Past the gate, where people punch in their code, there’s room to drive up to units and loading bay for the warm units.  The company has expanded a few times since the Otises bought the business. 

In 2009, they added an annex to the business, at the corner of Badger Road and the Old Richardson Highway. The location received an INSOMNIAC kiosk which people can use kind of like an ATM, Ben said. You can use the kiosk to rent a unit, buy a lock and pay the bill for the unit.

The company also holds auctions on units, but it isn’t like what you’d see on television.

“We don’t have ‘Storage Wars’ at this facility,” Ben said, laughing.

He explained that, if someone is delinquent, their unit is auctioned off. The company keeps what they are owed, but he said a lot of times they just want the unit back.

Beeman said when a tenant becomes delinquent, Forbes start by doing collection calls.

“If they’re 60 days delinquent or more, then we start the auction process, which means that we send them a letter telling them that we’re going to cut their lock,” she said. “Twenty to 25 days after that is sent we cut their lock and then another letter is sent.”

The second letter informs the delinquent tenant they are starting the auction process. Throughout the entire time period, Beeman said the company will still be making phone calls, trying to get in contact with the tenant. She said letters are sent both by regular mail and by certified mail.

“We do our due diligence to try not to sell their belongings. We just really don’t like that,” she said.

Once it’s time to hold an auction, Beeman said the employees do not enter the unit. They take pictures from the outside, describe what they can see and auction it off over the course of seven days, online.

The facility is open seven days a week and, while 24-hour access isn’t allowed, Ben said in the case that somebody needs to get into their unit right away, they make exceptions and try to allow limited time access to a unit.

He said he thinks being understanding and treating people the way they’d want to be treated by a business has lent itself toward their success.

“I think that goes a long ways, you know, in having a nice facility,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMlocal

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