Working: Keeping Safe: Fortier Celebrates 100 Years
LEWISTON – A state agency was moving into a former bank and needed to open the old six foot high double door safe inside.
Maurice “Mo” Robichaud politely declined an offer to cut his fees in exchange for half the content – the odds, in his experience, were not good, he told his contact.
As he set off, âshe said, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure?’ â, Robichaud, 73, recalled. ‘”
Three hours later the double doors opened.
âRight in the middle of the safe’s interior is a roll of toilet paper,â he said. “I said to him: ‘I have the first half, right?'”
It’s one of those calls in a locksmith‘s life that stands out. Like the only time he found real treasure, and the only time he and his daughter found a body in a trunk.
The Fortier security center on rue de Lisboa, formerly Fortier’s Serruriers, and long before that, H. Fortier + Fils, turns 100 this year, with Robichaud having been in the shop for almost half of it.
Henry Fortier started the business on Maple Street with his three sons.
âThere was not a great demand for locks at the time; people weren’t closing their doors like they are today, âsaid Robichaud. âSo they repaired typewriters, adding machines, phonographs, strollers. Small outboard motors.
They even repaired guns, renting them out for $ 1 a day during the hunting season.
âYou have three bullets at 50 cents a piece, and if you don’t use them, you get your money back,â he said.
Henry’s son, Clarence, eventually bought his brothers out of the business and he and his wife, Anita, ran it for years.
Robichaud met the couple in the early 1970s as Anita took a step back.
âI had gone to business school for a year; I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, âhe said. âOne day Mr. Fortier walked into a club to change the combination of the safe and a friend (said): ‘That would be a really cool job.’ It kind of piqued my interest and then I started going.
Clarence hired and educated him – âHe was a great mentor,â said Robichaud – and in the 1990s he sold the business to a nephew and Robichaud.
A few years later, Robichaud and his wife Lucy bought the nephew. Passing the torch, Robichaud’s daughter, Carrie Hinkley, bought the business with her husband, Keith, last September.
Hinkley, 43, has worked there since he was a teenager.
âShe’s a good safety technician,â said Robichaud. “Every time I had to open a safe, I would say, ‘Come with me, I need your young eyes.'”
Hinkley said she likes the job to be different every day with ever-changing technology.
âLocks made a certain way that day will be made differently another day,â she said. “It’s kind of like a puzzle.”
The store has six employees and specializes in key cutting, re-keying locks, and the occasional opening of locks or safes.
Robichaud said vault calls can be a mix of malfunctions, buying a safe at auction, or buying a building with a safe inside.
In the late 1990s, a young couple from Lewiston bought a building with one in the basement and visited Robichaud to ask how much the opening would cost.
âBack then, they couldn’t afford it. âWe’re just going to wait. Seven years later, the husband came over and said, “I want to do this, I want to have it (opened) as a birthday present for my wife,” said Robichaud. âI said, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool, but maybe there isn’t any of that. He said, “Oh, it’s okay. “
By this time, the safe had been underwater and its bolts were seized. Robichaud drilled a 1/4 ” hole on top and dropped a scope inside to see if it was worth it. He spotted some old coins.
The husband told her to go ahead, it was worth it.
âWhen we open a safe, the first thing we do is back up and leave the room and look away, because we don’t need to know what’s inside,â he said. said Robichaud. âI opened it, packed my tools, and they paid for the work. A few weeks later (the husband) stopped and said, “You know, the amount of coins we had in there paid for a lot more than a birthday present.” I don’t know what the exact number was, but it was good that someone finally paid to have a safe of any value opened.
The company doesn’t do a lot of car key work anymore, but the dad and daughter have already been called downtown for what started as a report of someone in a car.
âWe got there and the street was blocked off,â Hinkley said. “Come find out, the Lewiston Police Department wanted us to get into a vehicle.” They said, ‘Can you walk in without touching anything, without leaving fingerprints?’ It was a real body in the car.
They could and did, but they had to destroy the safe lock.
“One of the officers gave Dad a hard time,” she said. âThey do this in minutes on TV. So dad, being quick-witted, came back and said, ‘Yeah, and CSI solves the crime in an hour.’ “
Hinkley and her husband have two teenage sons. It is too early to say if Fortier will ever pass to a third generation.
They will celebrate the 100 years of the company on September 22. They have a lot of great, long-time employees, said Robichaud. Lucy, his wife, worked there for over 30 years before retiring. His brother-in-law worked with them. An accountant, Michelle Angers, 22 years ago, is the one who searched the library archives to find out the year the company opened. His son works there now too.
âIt was good because a lot of times you get people out of trouble,â said Robichaud. âYou helped them. Working safely has always been difficult but very rewarding to open it. It can be hard work sometimes, a little frustrating, but the community has been very, very good. “
And this government employee? He let her keep the whole scroll.
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