For 80 years, family's had a lock on
If Patty Maestranzi ever has business problems, she could change her title to Madame Maestranzi and fall back on fortune telling.
"Let's see," she said, flipping through my set of keys. "You have a deadbolt and a regular lock on your front door, work keys for two different places, access to another house - maybe your neighbor's - and you drive a late model post-'98 Ford truck with a bike rack and a locking shell."
She beamed, took a breath, and continued.
"And you had your duplicates made at K Mart."
Maestranzi's key identification skills have been honed from 22 years of working as the owner of a South Boston institution, The Broadway Lock Co.
At a time when corporate conglomerates are threatening small local shops, and other industries are encroaching on the locksmithing trade, Broadway Lock is holding its own: The shop just celebrated its 80th year in operation, run from the same building by the same family for the entire time.
"Business is good," said Maestranzi. "We're a third-generation business, now run by my brothers and I, and that's rare."
Her grandfather, his brothers, her father, many of her uncles, and most of her siblings were or are key cutters, locksmiths, or blade grinders. Maestranzi is even married to a locksmith.
Her husband, Rick "The Pick" Fisher, specializes in picking locks, and her brother John is the family's safecracker.
Maestranzi works the shop and jokes that her life is sometimes dull, but she has had her share of interesting incidents: one woman came in with a Kryptonite lock shackled around her neck (she had a mental disorder); another came in with her daughter in handcuffs (the daughter had been playing with them and lost the key); and an MBTA police trainee came in in handcuffs after breaking his key during a training exercise.
Fisher, who runs another lock smithing shop in town, said he once had a customer looking for a 10-foot length of chain and a padlock to keep spirits from raiding the refrigerator.
Fisher said locksmithing businesses are coming under increasing pressure from other industries. Locksmiths duplicate car keys less frequently now because newer ignitions require keys to use transponder technology, like FastLane; while a cut key may fit into the ignition, it won't turn the car on. And transponder programming machines are prohibitively expensive for small business owners.
Further, megastores like Home Depot intrude on chain and lock sales, and alarm companies compete for installation business.
Things were far different in 1922 when Maestranzi's grandfather, Giovanni, came to America and opened the Broadway Grinding Shop, which specialized in knife sharpening.
Giovanni went door to door with a pushcart, filing the blades of local butchers and restaurants. As time passed, the business concentrated more and more on key cutting.
Maestranzi said that she has many customers who remember coming into the shop when they were children. While the shop has undergone a few cosmetic changes, the atmosphere probably hasn't changed much.
A tour of the cellar yields a veritable locksmithing museum, complete with old safes, door handles, and mechanisms from the past century. Maestranzi said that her cellar is a key to her business, because it allows the company to service the many old doors and buildings in Boston.
It's clear that with so much stock, the company has been around for the long haul. The shop has outlived some of the other locksmiths in the area, including the once-nearby Houdini Lock Co.
While Maestranzi works the shop, her brother Robert covers the installation business around town and her brother John gets occasional calls from law enforcement to crack safes. Soon after the notorious Charles Stuart jumped off the Tobin Bridge in 1990, a detective asked John to crack Stuart's safe (which, as it turned out, held nothing, according to John.
"Locksmithing is an interesting job," said Maestranzi's husband, Fisher. "It's sometimes aggravating, but never boring."