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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Investment Firm Focuses On Turning Vacant Spaces Into Self-storage

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Apr 4, 2024
(Photos by Aris Harding)
Erik Hemingway, co-owner of real estate investment firm Nomad Capital, sailed through the 2008 housing crisis on a boat with his wife and six children. 

He bought the boat in 2009 off a remote island in Greece using money he obtained from selling some properties the year before in Arizona, where he began his career in construction. The Hemingway family moved to Costa Rica and then decided to set sail instead of going home, motivated by the economic downturn in the States. 

“We’re from Arizona, so we don’t know that much about boats,” Hemingway said. “But we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ So, we thought we were going to be on the boat for one year and just sail around in Greece, one island to the next, and then sell the boat.” 

The family of seven ended up living on the boat for three-and-a-half years, turning into a family of eight. They visited 25 countries and sailed from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cape Fear River. Hemingway returned to real estate in 2012 once he and his family settled into life on land in Wilmington. He began fixing and flipping homes until he and his son, Levi, began working on commercial projects in 2016. It was then that Erik Hemingway first had the idea to turn warehouse sites into self-storage facilities, Nomad Capital’s specialty. 

Converting properties feels like a creative outlet, Erik Hemingway said, seeing potential in something others do not. His first conversion was a vacant warehouse on Fourth Street across from Flytrap Brewing. Erik Hemingway was there having a beer when he saw the lot for sale. He said he immediately saw dollar signs where the listing agent saw a tear-down. 

Erik and Levi Hemingway began to revive the self-storage business Erik had established in Arizona but with a conversion twist. They brought on partners to invest in the projects, leading to Nomad Capital’s inception in 2021. 

“That’s why it’s Nomad Capital,” Erik Hemingway said, “because we were living like nomads on the boat.” 

When the Hemingway family crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2012, they spent 18 days on the open seas without seeing a speck of land, Erik Hemingway said. His wife had a newborn baby then, so it was up to him and his children, Levi and Maggie in particular, to man the helm. “People ask me, ‘Were you scared?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, every day,’” Erik Hemingway said. “All your family’s on the boat.” 

“It was awesome,” said Levi Hemingway, who was 15 during the transoceanic trip. He’s 28 now. “I absolutely loved every second of it. It was incredible.” 

The father and son built a great working relationship on the boat, Levi Hemingway said. They were the ones who usually docked, anchored and sailed the ship. 

“You had to communicate a lot, just about everything,” he said. “Stressful situations arose, for sure.” 

At first, Levi Hemingway worked for his father in the construction and self-storage companies. Later, the opportunity arose for the father and son to become business partners. 

Erik Hemingway and his father had tried to start a business together before his career in construction. It ultimately failed, however, to create sufficient income for them both. So, he got a job in construction, which led to his own father-son business venture years later. 

“We said, hey, let’s partner on this through the good and the bad and the ugly,” Levi Hemingway said. “I’m signing the notes with my dad now, so, it was obviously a lot of risk there, but we were doing it together and that feels really good to be to be on that level with him as a partner.”

Nomad Capital has now raised about $14 million from investors, manages about $150 million in assets and has embarked on its first formal capital raise, cheekily named El Fundo. Erik Hemingway said they’ve raised $4 million of the goal sum of $10 million, which is planned to be distributed across five properties. 

In a way, Nomad’s business model capitalizes on the decline of manufacturing and big-box store retail in the region. Vacant retail stores and manufacturing plants are ideal sites, Erik Hemingway said. They’re usually in central locations, climate-controlled and available for a fraction of the price of building a facility from the ground up. 

“We’re really excited for what we’re doing now at Nomad Capital,” Erik Hemingway said. “We feel like there’s a lot of opportunity and whether we’re going to do storage forever, who knows? But we feel like we’re good at spotting deals and finding opportunities. And so maybe it’ll be converting one of these huge mills into multifamily someday.

“I like to always be challenged, so if things become too routine and are too easy, I’m like, ‘Let’s shake it up.’” 

Something Levi Hemingway learned on the boat was to only focus on the next task at hand and not think too far ahead, he said. At first, he and his father didn’t know how to sail or start the engines on the ship, but they began to learn step by step until they gained enough skill to cross the ocean. 

As an adult, Levi Hemingway connects this idea with growing and scaling the business — focusing on what is in front of them, one thing at a time.
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