Let’s say you pulled into Union Station and you have an urgent need to tour the Lincoln Memorial on your day trip to the District but nowhere to store your bag.
Peter Korbel, a D.C. native who made a curry-filled splash in the city’s food truck scene years ago, has an app for that.
Korbel has created StoreMe, an app-based service that allows people to park their gym bags or luggage with cooperating merchants for short periods of time. The idea — which is sort of a cross between Uber and Airbnb for luggage — transforms unused storage space around the city into something like those coin-operated lockers that used to be found in many airports, bus depots and train stations. StoreMe users can take the backpack off their backs for as little as $7.50 a day.
Since its soft launch in New York City in January, the service has rolled into the District, Boston and Philadelphia, and it’s picking up about 1,500 active users a month, Korbel said.
“I can’t make it up: A guy wrote a Google business review — it was five stars — and he was like, it was the difference between being weighed down by his luggage and going to see the Lincoln Memorial,” said Korbel, 36.
Once upon a time, travelers and others could temporarily stow items in storage lockers at many transportation hubs. Fears of terrorism and other concerns, however, put an end to that.
Some trace such their disappearance to the 1970s, after a bomb believed to be hidden in a coin-operated locker killed 11 people and wounded dozens more at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. By 1995, after Muslim extremists were convicted of planning a terrorist campaign in New York, Grand Central Terminal shut down its baggage, the New York Times reported. The terminal’s lockers had disappeared even before that, partly because of security concerns but also to discourage their use by homeless people.
Korbel promotes his service as a win-win for users and retailers: Travelers and others take a load off their hands while retailers monetize their backrooms, cubbyholes and under-the-counter storage space. Not to mention that the service might bring potential customers through the door at a time when brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling to compete with the online marketplace. Korbel said he has signed up 135 retailers, including more than 70 in New York and 26 in Washington, including the Capitol Hill Hotel. Other locations include stores, hotels and even dry cleaners.
The way StoreMe works is simple. Users download the app on their smartphones, signing up via an email address or a Facebook account. When activated, the app shows pins around the user’s location showing potential storage sites at participating merchants and retailers.
The user then selects a location, inputs the number of bags he needs to store and takes a photograph that the storage site will review and use for identifying the bag. Hosts have the right to refuse bags and inspect them and their contents, Korbel said. He said the service provides insurance of up to $3,000, but so far, the company has yet to lose anything, and many storage sites are monitored by security cameras. He said there’s little to worry about.
“With StoreMe, I don’t see the danger being any worse than someone getting in an Uber car with a stranger — and you hear some of those bad stories — or staying in somebody’s home with Airbnb,” Korbel said. “I don’t know that I’m on the radar of someone who wants to do something illegal.”
Korbel grew up in a neighborhood north of Woodley Park. After attending the Maret School and Columbia University, he tried his hand at professional acting in New York. Then he latched on to food trucks, which started a recent craze in Los Angeles before catching on on the East Coast.
“I had the first food truck operation in Washington, D.C.,” Korbel said. With co-founder Justin Vitarello and other partners, Korbel started up Fojol Bros., serving Asian-influenced cuisine while donning turbans and fake beards and assuming mythical personas that rubbed some people the wrong way.
After the food truck venture, Korbel was looking for his next big thing when the idea for a storage service came to him.
“I had moved back to New York, and I had been living on this food truck high of sorts, living with a lot of purpose and passion,” Korbel said. “I was like, 'Man, what’s next in store for me?’ ”
Truer words haven’t been spoken. StoreMe’s concept formed the day Korbel — a self-described lifelong jock — found himself lugging a gym bag around Lower Manhattan while he was making the rounds of business meetings. Thinking about the ways that apps had revolutionized transportation and lodging, he started thinking of ways to use the untapped storage capacity in stores and businesses.
“An idea is a combination of two older ideas to make a new idea,” Korbel said. He said his business got its initial backing of $25,000 from family and friends. The name — which sounds like the first name of a certain porn star who’s become famous in the Trump era — was also his idea. Eventually, he hopes, his company will be in a lot more places and perhaps even taking a cut of retail sales its users generate at participating stores.
You can see the company’s official pitch here, featuring Korbel and a young woman outside Madison Square Garden whose wheeled burden becomes a source of quiet joy:
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