Carrie Hinkley and her father, Maurice “Mo” Robichaud, search last week for a key that was requested by a customer at Fortier’s Security Center in Lewiston. The section of key blanks where Hinkley is looking is a wall of older, harder to find keys. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — A state agency was moving into a former bank building and needed the old six-foot tall, double-door safe inside opened.

Maurice “Mo” Robichaud politely turned down an offer to cut his fee in exchange for half the contents — the odds, in his experience, weren’t good, he told his contact.

As he got underway, “she said, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure?'” remembered Robichaud, 73. Then, “‘I tell you what, you’ve been a good sport, so I’m going to give you half.'”

Three hours later, the double-doors swung open.

“Right in the middle of the inside of the safe, there’s a roll of toilet paper,” he said. “I told her, ‘I get the first half, right?'”

It’s one of those calls in a lifetime of locksmithing that stand out. Like the one time he found actual treasure, and the one time he and his daughter found a body in a trunk.

Fortier’s Security Center on Lisbon Street, formerly Fortier’s Locksmiths, and long before that, H. Fortier + Sons, turns 100 this year with Robichaud having been in the shop for almost half of it.

Henry Fortier started the company on Maple Street with his three sons.

Fortier’s Security Center is celebrating 100 years in business. The original location, seen in this picture, was on Maple Street in downtown Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“There was not a big demand for locks back in the day; people didn’t lock their doors like they do today,” said Robichaud. “So they would repair typewriters, adding machines, phonographs, baby carriages. Small outboard motors.”

They even repaired rifles, renting them for $1 a day during hunting season.

“You got three bullets at 50-cents apiece, and if you didn’t use them, you got your money back,” 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 was stepping back.

“I had gone to a business school for one year; I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life,” he said. “One day, Mr. Fortier came into a club to change the safe combination and a friend (said), ‘That would be a really cool job.’ It kind of piqued my interest and then I started to go over.”

Carrie Hinkley grew up working alongside her father, Maurice “Mo” Robichaud, at Fortier’s Security Center in Lewiston and now owns the business with her husband, Keith. “Sometimes the expectations were probably a little higher than they would have been if it was just anybody else, which is good because it motivates you,” Hinkley said about working with her dad. “But it’s been good overall. We tease each other, we have fun.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Clarence hired and schooled him — “He was an excellent mentor,” said Robichaud — and in the 1990s, sold the business to a nephew and Robichaud.

A few years later, Robichaud and his wife, Lucy, bought the nephew out. Passing the torch, Robichaud’s daughter, Carrie Hinkley, bought the business with her husband, Keith, last September.

Hinkley, 43, has worked there since she was a teenager.

“She’s a good safe technician,” said Robichaud. “Every time I had to open a safe, I’d say, ‘Come with me, I need your young eyes.'”

Hinkley said she likes that the work is different every day with technology always evolving.

“Locks that are made a certain way this day will be made a different way a different day,” she said. “It’s kind of like a puzzle.”

The shop has six employees and specializes in cutting keys, re-keying locks and opening the occasional skeleton key lock or safe.

Robichaud said safe 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 Lewiston couple bought a building with one in the basement and visited Robichaud to ask how much it would cost to open.

“Back in that day, they couldn’t afford it. ‘We’ll just wait.’ Seven years later, the husband came over and said, ‘I want to do it, I want to get that (opened) as an anniversary gift to my wife,'” said Robichaud. “I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool, but there may be nothing it it.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s OK.'”

By then, the safe had been underwater and its bolts seized. Robichaud drilled a 1/4″ hole on top and dropped a scope inside to see if it was worth their time. He spotted a few old coins.

The husband told him to go ahead, it was worth it.

“When we open a safe, the first thing we do is we back off and we leave the room and we turn away, because we don’t need to know what’s inside,” Robichaud said. “I got it open, packed my tools and they paid for the job. A couple of weeks later, (the husband) stopped in, and he says, ‘You know, the amount of coins that we had in there, it paid for a lot more anniversary gift.’ I don’t know what the exact figure was, but it was nice that someone finally paid to get a safe opened of any value.”

The company doesn’t do much car key work anymore, but father and daughter were once called downtown for what started as a report of someone in a car.

“We got there and the street was blocked off,” Hinkley said. “Come to find out, the Lewiston Police Department wanted us to get into a vehicle. They said, ‘Can you get into it without touching anything, without leaving fingerprints?’ It was an actual body in the car.”

They could do it, and did, but had to destroy the trunk lock.

“One of the officers gave Dad a hard time,” she said. “‘They do this in a matter of 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’s too early to tell if Fortier’s will some day pass to a third generation.

They’ll celebrate the business turning 100 on Sept. 22. They’ve had a lot of great long-time employees, Robichaud said. Lucy, his wife, worked there 30-plus years before retiring. His brother-in-law worked with them. A bookkeeper, Michelle Angers, there 22 years, is the one who dug through library records to figure out the year the company opened. Her son now works there, too.

“It’s been nice because a lot of times, you’re getting people out of trouble,” Robichaud said. “You’ve helped them out. The safe work has always been challenging but very rewarding to get it open. It can be difficult work at times, a little frustrating, but the community has been very, very good.”

And that one state worker? He let her keep the whole roll.


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