A company offering safe deposit boxes for rent is scheduled to open soon in the Spring Valley area of Northwest Washington, providing what bank officials and security specialists have observed as a new service emerging around the country in their fields.
Taking a cue from similar establishments in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, First Federal Safe Deposit Co. is leasing vault space in a range of dimensions to customers who are concerned about the safety of their family jewels, stamp collections, wills, stocks and other irreplaceable possessions.
Company president Louis Moses says First Federal was conceived and organized by "an investment partnership of local professional leaders." Its vaults will be at 4801 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Some of the services the company offers for rents ranging from $8 to $175 per month include a Wells Fargo escort service for clients who don't want to wear their diamonds to a party unprotected; vaults in which humidity and temperature are controlled for storage of computer tapes and discs, microfilm and other perishable goods, and private "screening rooms" with emergency alarms and doors that can be locked from the inside.
Guaranteed anonymity is another service Moses believes is important to his clientele.
"We don't release the names of our clients to anyone," he said. "We abide by all laws, but the person who rents from us has the privilege of renting under whatever name they want, [as long as] we can identify them by name."
Moses says the safe deposit box users First Federal is signing up are not customers taken from local banks, which have been the traditional lessors in this market.
"We're not competing with the banks. In fact, banks are leasing boxes from us and referring clients to us. . . Banks are our best boosters," Moses said.
A Riggs Bank spokesman said "we don't view [First Federal] as a competitor" with Riggs' safe deposit boxes. A spokesman for Suburban Bank said the safe deposit boxes there are usually full.
Like most other business concerns, the vault industry has its own professional association: the National Association of Private Security Vaults, located in West Lebanon, N.H.
Rick Drummond, president of the 127-member association, said companies like First Federal are springing up not only in the United States but also in other countries.
"It's an international trend," Drummond said. "We're having inquiries from Mexico, Europe, Australia. It's a historical thing that whenever fiat money paper currency not backed by gold starts taking the value from whatever commodity is used as money. . . people start taking their wealth and putting it into other commodities. Compound that with crime and lack of security of one's home and office, and we get an awful lot of private, commercial and industrial users of our facilities."
Drummond believes "the greater D.C. area could support half a dozen of these facilities if they're done right." He said he's aware of groups in Alexandria and Bethesda that are discussing the possibility of opening vault rental companies.
Moses says some of the inquiries First Federal has gotten have been surprising because of the wide variety of possessions potential customers feel the need to protect.
"There have been certain predictable things that we thought would happen--people want to store bonds, cash, jewelry, silverware, the obvious ones," Moses said. "The things that surprised me were. . . the sentimental, personal elements of things that might not have monetary value but personal value. I've had the whole gamut, it's interesting."
Although rental agreements are being made now, First Federal expects to open its doors in about two to three weeks.
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