- Age: 46
- Years as a locksmith: 18
- Best part about being a locksmith: “It’s a different job every time I go out.”
- Favorite place to go in Lawrence: Downtown
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One woman flushed her keys down the toilet. One man locked his keys in his car five times in the same day.
There is only one type of person in Lawrence who knows stories like these: a locksmith. Mike Smith has been a locksmith in Lawrence for 18 years and now manages the Mobile Locksmith Shop, 840 Conn.
Smith says that although people always know whom to call when they are locked out, there is more to being a locksmith than unlocking the door.
“It is mostly about problem-solving,” Smith said. “We go up to something and look at it and say, ‘What are we going to do to make this do what the customer wants?’”
The woman who flushed her only set of car keys definitely had a problem, and after Smith had helped her, he thought for a moment that she had created a problem for him.
“I helped a girl on the turnpike who had flushed her keys down the toilet, and then she wrote me a check that was signed ‘Robin Hood,’” Smith said. “I thought I had gotten taken. But it turns out, that was her real name.”
Although locksmiths can figure out a solution to almost every problem, sometimes the customers themselves make a solution impossible. Hint: Throwing liquid on frozen locks does more harm than good.
“One time in the winter I came to help a car with frozen locks, and it already had a big frozen coffee stain all over the window and the door. They also had thrown two buckets of water on it. I walked away and said, ‘There’s nothing I can do to help you now,’” Smith said.
Car doors and house doors aren’t the only things that occasionally need unlocking by a professional.
“I got a call one time to go to a house and unlock handcuffs, but it got canceled before I got there, which I was really glad of. I didn’t really want to go there,” Smith said.
Domestic disputes and divorces are another uncomfortable situation in which Smith, as a locksmith, has a role. The Sheriff’s Office always accompanies the locksmith to rekey homes when someone must leave the property. Smith says he keeps his head down and does his work, because it is never fun to be involved in that.
Many businesses in Lawrence depend on locksmiths to help them and their customers and tenants.
James Dunn, a Lawrence landlord, has worked with Smith and his shop for many years to assist his tenants.
“Mike has been very helpful to my tenants who get locked out, and he’s been helpful to me as my backup even when I’m out of town. My life would be a lot more difficult if it weren’t for that shop,” Dunn said.
Dunn recently had a tenant who locked herself out of her apartment but did not call a locksmith, because she thought it would be too expensive. So, she broke down her fire door to get in.
“I told her it would be cheaper to go stay in the suites at the Oread hotel than what she did to her door,” Dunn said. “Mike had to send a specialist with all this metal stuff to fix the door frame and the door. It looked like something out of a TV show in New York City.”
Price of service
When he talks to his colleagues in other parts of the country, Smith said that it is clear that Lawrence is unique. For example, Lawrence residents tend to feel safer than people in other cities, and people here also have different expectations.
“People in Lawrence don’t expect to pay as much as other areas are charging. Even for a lockout, you aren’t paying in Lawrence what you would pay in Kansas City,” he said.
At Mobile Locksmith Shop, the charge is just under $40 to help someone during the day who locks their keys in their car. For a house lockout, the charge is about $50 during the day. Prices are about $10 higher in the evening, and after 10 p.m., prices go up again.
Saving customers from lockouts has to come at a price, but advice from Smith is free.
“I’m still amazed that people can lose car keys, and they only had that one set,” he said. “Then, they only want one replacement. Everyone should have two sets of car keys.”
He also said that although Lawrence is perceived as a safe town, every house should have a deadbolt lock on each door in addition to the doorknob lock.
Smith said that despite the recession, his locksmith business is going well and has possibly even increased.
Perhaps locksmiths hold the key to success, as well.