Old Kmart facility

The old Kmart facility on Cumberland Road, pictured above, is the prospective location of a proposed U-Haul facility.

BLUEFIELD — A former Kmart that has been empty since 2016 was on its way Thursday to finding a new purpose as a self-storage center and U-Haul truck rental showroom. 

Jeff Bowles, marketing company president for U-Haul Co. of West Virginia, appeared early Thursday morning before the Bluefield Planning Commission. Bowles asked the commission to approve a change in the planned unit development of the former Kmart store near the Cumberland Road and Route 460 intersection. The change will allow U-Haul to convert the building from a retail space into a self-storage facility and U-Haul showroom. 

The commissioners unanimously approved the change. City Attorney Colin Cline said this approval takes the form of a recommendation that will go Oct. 8 before the Bluefield City Board of Directors for a final vote.

“Thanks for bringing another business to the city,” City Manager Dane Rideout told Bowles after the meeting. “We’re really excited about it. Let us know if we can do anything to help. This is really fantastic.”

“What U-Haul is proposing to do in the old Kmart is to do truck and trailer sharing with the other people in the community, install custom trailer hitches and sell boxes; but our primary focus is going to be to offer a state of the art self-storage facility,” Bowles said. “The majority of (renovations) will be interior.”

Bowles said there are plans for climate-controlled self-storage units as well as heated units, plus there will be some outside storage units.

“That way we can offer the customer three options: outside for the convenience of loading into a pickup or something of that nature; interior unload with heat; and also interior rooms with full climate control,” he said.

The facility’s storage units will have security alarms, and each customer will have an access card, Bowles stated.

“Everything will have security monitors on it,” he said. “The monitoring department at our headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz. That can see live views on the cameras at any of our facilities. If they get an alarm signal, that’s the first thing that they do is look at the cameras to see if there is anybody on premise. If there is anybody on premise, they will notify the store manager and the police department at the same time.”

Bowles said new U-Haul centers the size of the old Kmart generally start with 200 to 250 storage units. In the final phase of renovations, it could yield about 750 units.

The U-Haul center will need a store manager and assistant manager to get the project started. Eventually, the facility will need customer assistance employees, cleaners, and other people. Such facilities usually employ 10 to 15 people; some employees will be seasonal, he stated. The company’s moving season, its busiest time of year, is usually between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

U-Haul is converting another vacant Kmart in Elkins; that facility now has almost 250 storage units. The company recently bought a former Kmart in downtown Charleston, and it is looking at former Kmart locations in Bridgeport and Parkersburg, Bowles said.

Renovations could begin within 30 days after U-Haul closes on the Bluefield property, he stated. The sale does not include the neighboring Tractor Supply store.

There were several factors behind purchasing the old Kmart.

“One of the biggest decisions is demographics,” Bowles said. “We look at the amount of U-Haul rentals we do in a community, we look at the population and then we look at the other storage community. We felt that there was still a need in this area. Although you see several storage facilities within a 5 to 10-mile radius of this Kmart, there was still an unserved need for the type of product we’re going to offer: climate control; security; also we’d like to offer RV and boat storage that will be under a canopy.”

ATVs could be stored at the future center, too.

“Yes, That’s exactly the type of customer we’re hoping will come and rent from us,” Bowles said.

Bowles told Rideout that the company would try to use local contractors.

“Absolutely. When possible for what we want to do with the project, we’ll hire local contractors,” Bowles stated. “This area is revitalizing and we want to be a part of that.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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