boxed out

Fire-Ravaged Bronx Storage Center Leaves Renters in the Dark

A Bronx storage center on Walton Avenue has been vacant for years after a fire. But people still have stuff in it.
A Bronx storage center on Walton Avenue has been vacant for years after a fire. But people still have stuff in it. Photo: Ben Fracenberg/THE CITY

Antonio Robinson doesn’t remember the last time he saw the contents of the South Bronx storage unit his family had been renting on Walton Avenue.

It was sometime before April 2017, when a fire broke out at Tuck-it-Away Storage’s six-story building. The site, just off the Major Deegan at 138th Street, has been shuttered since.

Not long after, the company, which owned multiple storage sites, ceased operations. Its web address, tuckitaway.com, now reroutes to the Extra Space Storage company’s site.

That means calls from renters like Robinson, 43, have gone unanswered. Several have even sued the company. A flurry of online complaints now accompany Tuck-it-Away’s Facebook, Yelp, and Better Business Bureau profiles.

“We pretty much gave up,” Robinson told THE CITY.

No One Taking Responsibility

As THE CITY reported in May, when customers have issues with storage companies, there are few avenues to turn to apart from the BBB, a private nonprofit that has no oversight power.

Robinson and his parents, like other renters, still don’t know the extent of the damage there, as they haven’t been allowed in since.

One of the family’s two units contained two brand-new TVs, a bicycle, and DJ equipment, among other things, they said. And with reports that squatters had at one point lived in the location, there’s little to no hope that they will ever recover their things.

The family got “no compensation at all” from Tuck-It-Away, Robinson said.

Representatives from Tuck-It-Away, and attorneys for the company list in court records, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Squatters had been living in the vacant Walton Avenue storage center.
Squatters had been living in the vacant Walton Avenue storage center. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Sparks from welding ignited the three-alarm fire that broke out at the building at 261 Walton Avenue just after midnight on April 9, 2017, a Fire Department spokesperson said.
Evidence of the blaze is still visible: Thick trails of soot and smoke, now baked into the red brick exterior, rest on top of some of the building’s many windows, which are all sealed with wooden boards.

On a recent visit to the now-abandoned building, the front sidewalk, covered by scaffolding, was littered with items — including clothing, a printer, even an office chair. At the curb lay the remnants of a page from a French passport.

It wasn’t clear whether the items came from inside the building or were just dumped there. But to those who live and work nearby, their presence signals a site that’s been abandoned.

Used syringes sometimes turn up there, too, said Elizabeth Richterman, who works at a nearby high school.

“It’s dangerous,” she told THE CITY. “When I see it’s getting dark, I run.”

‘Two Years and Nothing’

The city Department of Buildings inspected the site in January at the prodding of a 311 caller, who said the building was open and posed a safety hazard, said DOB spokesperson Abigail Kunitz.

The inspector found that the property was not properly sealed, said Kunitz. Squatters had settled inside, according to a city-issued violation.

The owner ultimately had the building sealed and secured, DOB said. The agency inspected the site again in February has not received complaints since, according to Kunitz.

Since the fire, the building has been under a “full vacate” order and has racked up both numerous violations and thousands in unpaid fines, records show. Without fixing these structural issues, including several collapsed floors inside, it cannot reopen, the DOB said.

“DOB will reach out to the property owner to see if there is a safe way for tenants to retrieve their property,” Kunitz said.

Robinson, who lives in Washington Heights, still thinks about others who have lost things, some of them of great value, in the fire. One man he knew filled his storage unit with bags of rice and other goods to send to family members abroad.

“He was feeding his whole village from the United States,” Robinson said. “And he lost access to a lot of stuff.”

Others, he said, regularly stop by the site in the hope that it will one day be reopened, or that a notice will be posted informing them about their belongings — or what’s left of them.

“There’s a whole bunch of people that pass by everyday to see if they can get access to the building to see if they can get their stuff,” said Robinson. “It’s going on two years and nothing.”

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