LYNN — Mike McLaughlin has spoken the language of locks and keys for almost 40 years and the Eastern Avenue store owner knows his way around pick guns, escutcheon plates, barrel keys and mortise locks.
McLaughlin learned the locksmith trade from the late Ettore “Tony” Polli, who owned the former Superior Lock on Andrew Street. A friend at English High School urged him to go to work for Polli, who quickly sized up McLaughlin.
“Tony said, ‘Mike, you’re good with your hands. Stay with me,'” McLaughlin recalled.
He worked for Polli for 15 years and opened Mike’s Quality Locksmith across from Aborn School in 1997.
“I started in 404 Eastern and I got bigger, I needed more space and moved next door,” he said.
In an age of electronic locks and big-box stores cutting keys and selling locks and security system, McLaughlin’s survival as a neighborhood small business owner rests on a simple motto: “It’s loyalty and dependability.”
His customers attest to that credo with Old Neighborhood Foods owner Tom Demakes’ note thanking McLaughlin on display in the locksmith’s store.
“I went the extra mile as I do for all my customers,” McLaughlin said.
Ben Ndirangu of Lynn is a 12-year Mike’s Quality customer who has never brought McLaughlin a lock or key job the locksmith couldn’t tackle.
“He’s the best. If there is any problem, he can fix it,” Ndirangu said.
McLaughlin lived as a boy on Ocean Circle off Lynn Shore Drive and had fun climbing on the former Stone’s Bakery’s roof with his friends. Now a Georgetown resident, he has been married to his wife, Renee, since 1999.
He regrets not attending college but he kept his mind keen over the years by studying languages, including Spanish, Italian and Greek, and geography.
“Fifty percent of my clientele speak Spanish,” he said.
Locks, like languages, are a challenge to be studied and mastered for McLaughlin. People bring him rusty locks and he puts them in working order. A woman locked her car keys in her trunk and McLaughlin removed the driver’s side door lock, made a key, and unlocked the trunk. Some stubborn locks require brute force to master.
“No lock can stop me,” he said.
The tools of McLaughlin’s trade date back to the days of old-school locksmiths like Pelli. The pick gun allows McLaughlin to open most locks when their owners have lost the keys. Barrel keys with a distinctive hole bored into one end still work on a surprising number of locks, he said, and “grand master keys” are still used in multi-unit residential buildings.
McLaughlin finishes off cutting a key by stamping it on a small anvil with a customized die tool engraving the key with his business name.
His customers and the ever-looming challenge of trying to figure out a particularly-complicated lock keep McLaughlin coming to work on Eastern Avenue.
If retirement is in his future, he has yet to find the key to unlock the door to it.