By Ruth Longoria
David Cristalli didn’t think much about locking up his possessions while growing up on the Island.
In fact, as a teen, he said, he often left his car parked in the driveway with the keys in the ignition. Fifteen or so years ago, there wasn’t much crime on the Island, and most folks didn’t lock their doors, much less consider purchasing a locking mailbox.
But the times change. With the problems of stolen mail, identity theft and other crimes perpetuated by criminals preying on the naiveté of honest folks, many Islanders are happy to become clients of the 32-year-old Mercer Island High School graduate and businessman.
“In the past few years, business has been crazy. We’re busy most of the time,” Castalli said of Lock Box, a locking mailbox installation company he took over about four years ago from previous owner, Islander Steve Larsen.
Through Lock Box, Cristalli and his employee Geoffrey Larrabee have installed thousands of locking mailboxes for residents in Mercer Island, Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond.
Christalli knew he wanted to someday open his own business when he graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1990. What that business would be, he said, he “didn’t have a clue.” After working as a cashier for more than nine years at the south-end QFC grocery store, Cristalli was ready for a change. And, he was open to an offer from Larsen to help build up the clientele of Lock Box.
Lock Box purchases mailboxes from manufacturers, based on customer preferences, and Cristalli and Larrabee install them. Installation includes putting the boxes on posts, as well as building the cedar, or composition roofed covers and stands. Though he’s only installed 40 or 50 boxes on the Island, Cristalli drives around East and West Mercer Ways proudly pointing to several of his creations.
He has installed boxes for homeowners associations as well as private individuals. Some have four or five black boxes with white-lettering in an attractive covered stand, others have 12 or16 connected industrial-looking metal boxes, similar to those you’d see in an apartment complex. Prices for the boxes vary, but most are close to the $200-per-installed-box range. Size is one of the main factors, as the smaller boxes cost less.
Plus, depending on the box chosen, it’s not always cheaper to purchase with a group of neighbors, Cristalli said. “I try to keep the price down around $200 each box either way.”
Cristalli said he gets most of his business through word of mouth and post office referrals. Post office officials are happy to help residents procure a locking mailbox, Cristalli said.
“From what I’m told, a lot of the crime statistics are mail-theft related,” he said. “So, it’s nice to be helping deter that kind of crime.”
However, he said, he doesn’t make any promises to his customers.
“Locking mailboxes are a good deterrent, but they are only a deterrent. If someone wants to steal something, a lock isn’t always going to stop them.”
But, even a deterrent helps, say Mercer Island law enforcement and postal workers. In the past few months several residents have either installed locking boxes or requested information about them, said Island Postmaster Douglas P. Stephens.
“In the areas that aren’t lit well and where the residents don’t get out to their boxes right away, locks can be a big help. Locks are absolutely a big help,” Stephens said.
Ron Elsoe, public safety director for the Mercer Island Police Department, agrees, though he said it may take a while before we see how big of help the rush to buy locking boxes can be.
“Thefts have dropped in the past few months, I’m not sure if that’s just mail theft, but overall crime is down and I feel good about that,” Elsoe said. “But, we’ve had some stolen mail in the past few days, but there are still thousands of mailboxes on the Island that don’t lock.”