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Father-and-son locksmiths have found the key to happiness

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This week, a look back at father-and-son locksmiths. Phil and Philip Mortillaro run Greenwich Locksmiths in Manhattan. Phil has been locking and unlocking things since he was 14 years old. He opened his Greenwich Village shop in 1980. All five of his children spent time there. Philip, his youngest son, decided to follow in his father's footsteps. They came to StoryCorps back in 2014 to talk about locksmithing together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PHIL MORTILLARO: I was one of those kids who would show up when school first started. And they would see me again around Christmas time. And then they would see me in June to tell me that I had to do the grade over again. So dropping out of school was - it was inevitable. And as far as you doing the business, you started younger than me.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: Soon as I could walk.

PHIL MORTILLARO: Even before you were walking.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: Yeah.

PHIL MORTILLARO: I got pictures of you in the shop when you were in the bassinet.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: I was literally there since day one. I saw you do it. I was like, OK, I can do this. Then I kind of realized, man, you know, everyone loves my dad. One half of that is, you know, 'cause he's a great guy. The other half is like, you know, he's the guy who helps you when even other locksmiths can't help.

PHIL MORTILLARO: I have a sense of usefulness. And that's a big thing in my noodle - is that you always have to feel like, I have some worth.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: I'm not just saying this. You're the most hardworking, tenacious person I know.

PHIL MORTILLARO: That comes from coming from immigrant parents. You can never work hard enough. Even when you're working seven days a week, they say, you're a little lazy. Think about it, Philip. When am I ever late?

PHILIP MORTILLARO: Never.

PHIL MORTILLARO: When do I ever take vacations?

PHILIP MORTILLARO: No, never.

PHIL MORTILLARO: And when am I going to retire?

PHILIP MORTILLARO: One day before your funeral.

PHIL MORTILLARO: You know it.

(LAUGHTER)

PHIL MORTILLARO: You know, if you ever didn't want to do this, you know I would never be heartbroken, I would understand.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: Yeah, yeah.

PHIL MORTILLARO: You know what I mean? My father - he hated my business, man. You know, I had a cousin who became an accountant. And my father used to tell me about him all the time. But I think it was the founder of IBM - he said, I'm no genius, but I'm bright in spots, and I stay around those spots. I like that.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: You raised all of us, man. Five kids, and every single one of them did not ever want for anything, man. That's hard to do for someone who just went up to the eighth grade.

PHIL MORTILLARO: Well, you do your best, kid. That's what you do. But honestly your best, not just a B.S. best. And even if you fail, it doesn't feel that bad.

PHILIP MORTILLARO: You're always my barometer. You've never let anyone down. That's what sets you apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VITTORO")

MARTÍNEZ: That's Philip and Phil Mortillaro in New York City in 2014. Phil still insists he has no plans to retire. Their interview is archived in the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VITTORO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Liyna Anwar