Local business aims to shine away winter blues

Ballard resident Joe Handelman starts his mornings off as many other people do; he wakes up, grabs a cup of coffee and reads the newspaper. But thirty minutes later, not everyone can say they feel as refreshed and uplifted as Handelman does.

Now that the Autumnal Equinox has passed, shorter days and longer nights are among us. Not letting the looming gloomy weather bring him down, Handelman simply turns on his light box during his morning routine, instantly brightening up his day.

Handelman, who originally came from sunny Philadelphia, has what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a condition that causes feelings of depression that have been linked to the change in length of day throughout the year.

When he moved to Washington in August of 1999, he was glad to get out of the dry heat of the east and was welcomed into the best weather of the year in Seattle.

But as quickly as the summer came, it was gone — a seasonal tease most Seattleites are used to. But Handelman was not. After living in the area for a few years, he started noticing signs of sluggishness and hopelessness similar to the symptoms of depression.

“It’s no different than any other depression,” he said. “It just only pops up in the winter months.”

One morning in the late months of 2001, Handelman was having breakfast at Vera’s Restaurant. He was seated at a table by the window and noticed that he hadn’t really seen the sun out for a very long time. That’s when he got his “ah-ha!” moment, realizing what his life was missing.

“It had been days, if not weeks, without the sun really coming out,” he said. “And then all at once, the clouds parted and this strong ray came pouring through the window … It was as almost as if someone had turned a switch and I went from blasé to exuberant.”

It wasn’t long after that before he bought his first light box. He’s sworn by it for the past 10 years.

“I remember when I bought the light box and I used it for the first time,” Handelman said. “I had just as dramatic as an affect as when the sun hit me. It was instantaneous; my mood was lifted.”

About 10 percent of Seattleites experience SAD during the winter months and around 20 percent experience a milder version of it known as Subsyndromal SAD. Though this may be the case, most of those people don’t use or own a light box. But for Handelman, it was a game changer. So in early 2012, he decided to start a rent-to-own light-box business, Seattle Light Box.

“Many people relate to my experience,” he said. “But very, very few people buy a light box. In coming up with the idea for the business, it centered around my notion that many people could benefit from it … but because people don’t know that it will help them, they just don’t buy it.”

Seattle Light Box offers two different styles of light boxes to choose from: a standard desktop version and a much smaller, compact version. While the prices are $395 and $295, respectively, anyone who is interested can rent the machine for $25 a week, which can be counted toward the final purchase price if he or she decides to keep it.

“Most people know within a week if it will help,” he said. “I want to afford people the opportunity to try it and then, if it works really well, they can either buy one from me or even from elsewhere, but at least they know one way or another.”

It’s not a new concept to rent a light box, but what Handelman said he provides is a more personal approach to the business. When someone puts in an order, he takes it upon himself to deliver the light box directly to their front door and then proceeds to help set it up and talk the buyer through the whole process at no extra cost.

“I think the difference is you can go online and there are all sorts of light boxes you can have drop shipped to your house,” he said. “Mine is more emphasizing just the service of someone coming into your home and explaining how it works … I think people need guidance with it from someone who’s benefitted and used it for a long time.”

Now that shorter days are just around the corner, Seattle Light Box has fully launched. As the name of the business states, Handelman plans to stay within the Seattle area to assure that personal touch, but he said he is willing to extend his services to as far north as Everett or as far south as Tacoma. All he hopes is to see his company grow into less of a rental business, but rather more of a chance to sell something life-changing.

“I’m excited about the whole experience of having people try this because it was so dramatic for me,” Handelman said. “I get to give people that opportunity and if it does work, I get to share in that positive thing in that person’s life.”

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