THE HANDI-HUT HISTORY

SHELTERING AMERICA FOR HALF A CENTURY

Innovating since 1971

Handi-Hut is an outgrowth of a project by Melrose Displays, a custom metal fabrication company founded by Mel Cohen. In 1968, his company was approached by the New York Times and the New York Department for the Blind with an unusual request: Develop a newsstand that could be operated by a blind person; with the dual goals of helping them become gainfully employed, and for the Times to sell more newspapers.

After testing a tabletop model, Melrose fabricated an aluminum newsstand with features like slots marked with Braille to organize magazines, and shelves covered by glass to prevent theft. Installed on a busy Times Square street corner, it proved so successful that they built thirty-two more for other New York City locations.

Inspired by this experience in social entrepreneurship, Mel’s company developed another product in 1971 that would enable physically handicapped veterans to get work. Designed as miniature stores, they built prefab aluminum kiosks and installed them in the parking lots of shopping malls. Vets were hired and trained to operate the little huts, selling impulse items like gum, cigarettes, and magazines, as well as offering handy services like key making, photocopying and film-drop off. Those with an enterprising spirit were taught business skills and given the opportunity to buy the mini-stores and become their own boss.

A new company called Handi-Hut was born.

Mass Transit Shelters

In 1973, Americans started increasingly to leave their cars behind and use buses and trains to get to work. Sensing a larger opportunity in the burgeoning market for mass transit infrastructure, Mel Cohen sold the retail business to focus on producing passenger waiting shelters for the growing number of bus stops and light rail stations connecting passengers to work and school. After much research, Handi-Hut’s team decided on six design principles.

  1. Focus on quality
  2. Use of durable materials and finishes
  3. Easy assembly
  4. Fast and economical customization
  5. Versatility
  6. Provide superior value

As time progressed so did the popularity of Handi-Hut’s prefabricated aluminum and glass shelters, which sold to transit agencies and bus operators around the country.

Pedestrian Shelters

By the mid-70s, Handi-Hut expanded the range of shelters to include custom walkway covers, building entry canopies and enclosures. Incorporating many of the same materials as the bus stop shelters, all-weather protection for employees and customers now extended from the parking lot to the front door. Part of the appeal was they were more durable and attractive than cloth canopies, and the range of standard roof styles made them more compatible with surrounding architecture.

Specialty and Custom Shelters

The late 70’s was a period when the inquiries for specialty and custom shelters started to take off. The versatility of Handi-Hut’s modular components and manufacturing methods allowed us to create custom shelters and enclosures for a wide range of applications, without the costs and long delivery times associated with custom products. Requests for things like enclosures for equipment storage, rooftop stairwells, and outdoor lunch areas for employees became more common, and providing services like PE certifications took the burden off our customers.

Smoking Shelters Protect from Secondhand Smoke

In the late 80’s, restaurants and other public places began to react to public health concerns about cigarette smoke. Handi-Hut began manufacturing outdoor smoking shelters using its proven prefabrication methods to accommodate employees and customers who smoked, and those who didn’t. The smoking shelters were also effective in eliminating building entrances littered with cigarette butts and crowded with smokers.

In 1993, an EPA Risk Assessment study brought to the public’s attention the health hazards of inhaling secondhand smoke. States soon started to set mandates for smoke-free workplaces to protect employees’ health and safety, and the interest in Handi-Hut’s smoking shelters started to take off.

Solar

Small solar panels and lights started to become mainstream in the late 80’s as the prices continued to drop and become more affordable. Handi-Hut developed its first solar light designed specifically for bus stop shelters in 1994. It was a low-cost solution to illuminate transit shelters that were off the electric grid. The lights made passengers waiting for a bus or train feel more at ease, and reduced crime and vandalism. As technology improved, other models were added to meet the demand.

Bike Parking Infrastructure

In April of 2019, Handi-Hut was purchased by Richard Cohen, Mel Cohen’s son and founder of Velodome Shelters. Velodome is a recognized leader in the design and production of innovative bicycle parking shelters, secure bike racks and bike storage equipment. In September of 2021, Richard merged the companies while retaining the Handi-Hut corporate name.

The combination of Handi-Hut and Velodome Shelters creates new synergies in design, engineering, manufacturing as well as administrative efficiencies. Both companies build infrastructure that provides transportation alternatives to automobiles – whether by bicycle or mass transit – and combat global warming by helping to reduce CO2 emissions from automobiles.

Service of the Past, Innovation for the Future

Today, we’re expanding to support sustainability programs and the continued demands for better transit options within the community. We still provide old-fashioned customer service and innovative solutions, and adhere to our founding values of producing high-quality, modular products that are attractive, versatile, durable, and easy to assemble. At an excellent value.