Commentary: For Laurel locksmiths, choice of profession is 'open and shut case'

A temptation-soaked world can do without Twinkies. Not so when it comes to locks, those unheralded little marvels that help protect us from the wolves crouching at the door.

That's why our little planet has go-to enterprises like Laurel's Lock Shop at 910 Montgomery St. Inside the cozy little Victorian, you'll encounter an explosion of master keys that, once cut properly, will fit pretty much anything that needs getting into: cars, houses, motorcycles, stores and offices.

Dianna Bootz, who owns the shop with her husband, Bill, declares this is their calling, an open and shut case. Bootz, 53, gets a good feeling when she can fit the customer with the right key.

"I like the people," she declared, as her cat, Keybo, surveyed the room. "It really feels good when you pick a lock, open something and rescue someone."

The mailbox key, she added, is her bread and butter. "There's nobody else (in town) doing it." Outside locks "get oxidized and crud gets on them."

For 15 years, Bootz said, she's been tinkering with locks at Konterra, the mixed-use development taking shape in South Laurel. "When one of the tenants can't figure something out," she explained, "they call us. We're only 10 minutes away. Sometimes, sprinklers and alarms there will go off in the middle of the night, and they need somebody to be there."

Stories overflow in her mental vault.

For example, not long ago, she got a call in the wee hours from the Laurel Police. Her expertise was requested in helping a man who had locked himself out of his apartment. Bootz rushed to his aid, and when she got there, she found the man "walking around in his PJs," she recalled.

Turns out he was an out-of-state soldier stationed at Fort Meade who "didn't know anyone here" who might have had a spare key to his apartment.

Another night, she was called — again during the witching hours — to reunite a Volvo owner at the BP station in Maple Lawn with his vehicle's interior. That job, she said, took a bit more effort, but it was still "under 15 minutes."

Finally, there was the job she was called to do at a condominium. The occupant, she said, had locked herself in 90 minutes earlier. "She started freaking out," Bootz said, and was ready to call the Fire Department.

Not a good plan, Bootz advised. "I told her all the Fire Department would do is knock your door down. Did she want that?"

Once her nocturnal jaunts are finished — her fee is $75 per job and $150 for overnight service — she steers home to her own bed. "I get back kinda wound up," she confessed, "and it's hard to get back to sleep."

Booze explains that her business is cut from a different mold.

While the big box stores do many things well, she contends, making keys is not one of them. "All our keys are brass. Theirs are mostly aluminum and tend to break. They bring us a lot of business."

Bootz, who grew up in Minnesota and once ran her own home improvement business, said she grew up fascinated by parts that moved. "It's just fun to take stuff apart and put it back together."

She laughed as she remembered her habit of borrowing her dad's things. "He would stomp in the room and say, 'my needle nose pliers are gone!' All his tools would be under my bed. I don't know why I didn't put them back. I'd always get in trouble."

Bootz is confident she has hit upon the right combination to make the Christmas go down easier by offering free lock-out service to anyone in distress. The freebie is good from 9 p.m. Christmas Eve to midnight Christmas Day.

Standing in the shadow of displays of hide-a-keys, key clips and keys stamped with the images of Barack Obama and "Peanuts" characters, Bootz unleashed a hearty laugh as she described her marriage and their business. "We're very lazy, but very tenacious!"

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