Today, I take my dad to kidney dialysis twice a week and because he is not supposed to drive, I sometimes bring him to work with me. He understands how the business has changed, hears about the prevalence of “locksmith scammers,” and talks to some of the old-timers he hired, the locksmiths he knew, and the young ones he never met.
My father still has a gleam in his eye when talking about the locksmith industry. He talks about his old friends, Al and Jerry Hoffman, both who died last year, and his good friend, Dick Tway from Wilson Bohannon, who died many years earlier. He remembers legends like George Vilwock, past president of Master Lock, and Aaron Fish of Ilco. And he will never forget his mentor, Joe Falk.
My dad has many friends left in the industry, such as Fred Knoche, owner of Fred’s Key Shop, still in the half-deserted Cass Corridor of Detroit, a mile away from downtown Detroit. Almost every year, Fred, my dad, and I drive around the city, hashing over what it was like when they both worked a mile apart, when the city was vibrant with people, over 1.5 million (now less than 800,000.) People from all over the Detroit metropolitan area worked in downtown Detroit in the 1960s before the ’67 riots decimated the streets of Detroit. Fred and my father talk about the biggest locksmith shops then and the first meetings of the MMLA in the early 1960s, held at Hardware Sales in the Elks Building on Cass Avenue. We drive around the half-empty streets and witness what had once been thriving storefronts, churches, and synagogues. I can barely imagine the hustle and bustle of a vibrant world that has disappeared.
Fred, my dad, and I go out to eat at a few remaining legendary restaurants and reminisce about old keys and locks and the manufacturers, distributors, and locksmiths who are gone. My dad and Fred talk with nostalgia about the days when they were as young as the locksmith industry. With the help of my dad’s service at Hardware Sales, Fred’s Key Shop started nearly 50 years ago, when Detroit was still strong. It is partly because of their friendship and mutual respect that the locksmith-locksmith distributor relationship held on so much better than the declining economic environment around them.
As a son to a father in the locksmith distribution business, I can only wonder what will become of our industry. Family businesses aren’t as prevalent as they used to be. Kids go to college and become professionals or join tech companies or move away to other states, just to find work. My son works in Chicago as a business consultant and my daughters have no interest in our business either. Still, I hope the threads that kept companies and families together in the last half-century will be prevalent in the next.
Last year, I wrote about eight great men in our industry who died, some of them friends of my father, passing on businesses to their families. Before that day eventually comes, I wanted to honor my father. He was (and still is) a great husband to my mom, a caring father to Leslie and me (as he was to Kenny,) a wonderful father-in-law to Bruce and Judy and an even better grandfather to Kyle, Ilana, Marlee, and Karenna. Like so many fathers of his generation, first generation locksmiths and locksmith distributors, my dad worked hard most of his life to provide for his family so there would be something meaningful to give to the next generation…and the next.
We owe so much gratitude to our fathers and mothers for what they have given us. In my case, it wasn’t just my life itself but the opportunity to work and thrive with my father in a relationship industry that is fighting for its own life.
It is our time now to give what we have learned and what we cherish to our children. It is our time.
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