For those that think a locksmith, such as Prince Rupert’s Gary Weick, may just sit and cut keys all day, you’re a few death threats and drug busts short of the real, hardened truth.
For Gary, who was born and raised in Prince Rupert, and owns and operates Gary’s Lock and Security shop on Second Avenue, the excitement levels haven’t dropped off in the face of growing electronic trends in the security industry.
“You never know what you’ll run into from one day to the next,” said Gary last week inside his newly-painted store.
“One of the stores [in town] will fire an employee and they’ll call me to rekey locks or something … or a wife’s kicked the husband out of the house or the husband’s kicked the wife out … I’ve been threatened a few times – the husband especially. One guy from down south threatened to come up here and kill me because I changed his lock. You just brush it off.”
Gary, who doesn’t make as many out-of-shop calls as he used to when he was younger, has a vault of stories of customers who needed the business owner to perform an array of jobs, ranging from opening bank vaults to RCMP suspects’ residences who lock themselves away from the cops.
Gary’s start in the business evolved from a carpentry apprenticeship during high school and he even delivered newspapers down Third Avenue as a youngster. The tradesman bought a key machine from a plumbing and locksmith company he was working for and later, Gary operated a key-cutting business out of his house which eventually became a shop in the mall. He was also all self-taught.
“I decided I’d take that course you’d see in the magazines and I bought this key machine and a few keys and went from there,” he said.
“I just really liked to tinker with locks so I just took this course as something to do after work – my carpentry stuff – and it just skyrocketed from there.”
After operating Gary’s Lock and Security for five years in the mall in the late 1970s, the Rupertite bought his own real estate at his current location and even has his daughter, Leanne, working directly next to him at Leanne’s Pet Shop.
“People [come in] who just want to pick my brain, or what’s left of it,” he laughed.
“They’d ask what kind of locks I’d recommend.”
While the locksmith business has been good to Gary, he said the industry has changed so much that young people are starting to look elsewhere or into electronics, such as alarm systems.
“[There are] very few full-time locksmiths. Most are mobile. You can’t afford the real-estate. If I didn’t have this building paid off, I couldn’t afford [to use it],” said Gary.
“You never learn it all. And up north here, you’ve got to do a little bit of everything. Down in the bigger cities, you can [specialize] in houses or banks or stuff. Here, you’ve got to tinker with everything,” he said, adding that he used to travel to Haida Gwaii for work in the villages.
Gary will also typically rent out safety-deposit boxes in the vault left over at the location from when the building was an old trust fund business.
And as many in Prince Rupert have surely seen, the small business owner also hosts a menagerie of locally historic collectible items that he’s taken in from all sorts of sources, dubbed “Prince Rupert’s Other Museum”.
From the usual suspects of old Coke bottles to cigarette lighters to the harder-to-find items like old Archie and Jughead dolls to corporate collectible toys to replica swords, Gary’s got something to tickle every customer’s fancy.
“I didn’t intend to collect antiques and stuff like that – I just added a few things to the window when I first opened up and it snowballed. So much was given to me and people would donate to the [Museum of Northern British Columbia] and over the years, they’d never see it anymore. They have the majority of the First Nations art that the tourists like to see, but for local people’s contributions – some of it would just end up in the basement,” he said.
“I just had an old gramophone and a few clocks in the window and it just went from there … I like local stuff – local calendars and bottles.”
One of Gary’s favourite parts of owning Gary’s Lock and Security is the quasi-family dynasty that came from his interest in locksmithing.
Gary’s brother got into the business in Abbotsford and he has a nephew in Smithers doing the same thing. But it’s his nephew, Terry, who opened up his own store in Terrace, who Gary is inseparable with since they used to attend conferences across B.C. together when Terry was just little.
“He’s doing extremely well up there. We always talk. I go up there for lunch once every couple weeks and he’d come here and we’d use the [shop’s] second floor for Christmas parties,” said Gary.
“Oh, it gets fun, and crowded … it’s been nice. It’s nice to have your family close by.”