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Winfield underground storage facility offers change of pace for businessman

Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

When Greg Toy reopened an underground storage facility in a former limestone mine in Winfield, he didn't just resurrect a business, he restored a life focused on family.

“My retail center was seven days a week, my life was just like a hamster on the wheel,” said Toy, 46, who owned Toy's Flower and Landscape Supply in West Kittanning for 15 years.

That life ground to a halt in 2006 when doctors diagnosed him with stage IV appendix cancer. The sticky, jelly-like tumors had filled his abdominal cavity.

He had to have a portion of his colon and half of his liver removed, along with his gall bladder and spleen.

He spent 35 days in intensive care at UPMC Shadyside.

The rare form of cancer that affects about 1,500 people a year returned three years later, but he's been in remission since.

A few months after Toy's initial diagnosis, he had to return to the floral shop, but he knew he wanted a change of pace.

“I wanted to be with my kids and my family,” he said. “We saw this as an opportunity to slow things down.”

He sold the floral shop and property in 2011.

About a year later he opened Toy's Underground Storage at the one-time mine and relocated his landscaping business there.

Toy is leasing the 500-acre tract on Winfield Road from Snyder Associated Companies of Kittanning. Snyder closed the facility in 2009.

He said he is close with the Snyder family and said they were very supportive during his cancer treatment.

He was reluctant at first when they approached him about reopening the storage business.

“It's turned into a wonderful thing,” Toy said.

“It's just different. I was in the retail industry, and it seemed like you could never make anyone happy. This business, everyone who comes here is happy,” he said.

The mine is an ideal place to store vehicles during Pennsylvania's harsh winters. It's cool and dry — a constant 52 degrees with 60 percent humidity — and eliminates the need for winterization.

The state Department of Environmental Protection routinely inspects the mine to ensure the roof is stable and to test air quality.

The mine shafts have ceilings from 9 to 12 feet high and are wide enough for two cars to pass. Air is circulated by three large exhaust fans that run all day, every day.

There are 26 light switches. Each evening an employee drives around on a golf cart turning off the lights, Toy said.

A substance sprayed on the walls to stabilize them gives the caverns an eerie sheen similar to imitation stone.

It's easy to get lost in the miles of tunnels, but Toy navigates it easily in his pickup truck, pointing out sections for boats, campers and cars.

Just in case, spray painted in orange at each junction is the word “out” with an arrow pointing toward the exit.

A Freeport Volunteer Fire Department fire truck up for sale and the department's river rescue boat are tucked away in one recess.

Thanks to advertising and contacting former clients, business is on the upswing, Toy said.

General storage prices for the winter season range from $185 for a car to $460 for anything 39 feet or longer.

Winfield Supervisor Matt Klabnik said it's always a benefit to have another business in the township.

“It's a unique facility, and I'm glad the Toys have come and brought that back,” he said.

“I know it was something people enjoyed having.”

Other underground facilities

Two similar underground storage facilities operate in former limestone mines in the village of Boyers near Slippery Rock and in Wampum, Lawrence County.

Iron Mountain specializes in data and record management.

Its 1.7 million-square-foot mine in Boyers houses millions of historical photos as well as paper records from the federal government.

The Wampum Underground Commerce Center stores vehicles such as boats and motor homes and leases storage space to a dozen companies.

Wampum converted some of the mine into office space available for rent.

“What's appealing is the uniqueness of the facility, itself,” General Manager Deb Sudano said about the marketability of an underground office space.

“You don't have to worry about snow or heat; your car is protected all the time and the utilities are lower.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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