Meet Philip Mortillaro. A Neighborhood Locksmith & Icon of The West Village

Sevier Stories

Interview by: Danielle Sevier

Produced by: Mike Persico

“If you live in the Village, you know who Philip Mortillaro is and his authentic looking shop. Philip is the owner of Greenwich Locksmiths and he has been spending the last five decades mastering his craft and serving the neighborhood. Today we speak with Philip and get to know more about him, his trade, and how he started in the business.”

DS: Hi, I’m here today with Philip Mortillaro, the owner of Greenwich Locksmith. Hi, Phillip.

PM: Hello, how are you?

DS: I’m well, thank you. So, I understand you opened your first shop in 1968 when you were 18 years old.

PM: Yes.

DS: What I’m really curious about is who inspired you helped you do that?

PM: Well, I’ve been doing this trade since I was 14 years old. It was the summertime. Everybody was looking for a job and some- body told me that there’s a shop that was looking for somebody just to help them move to another location down the block. This was over on Third Street and Second Avenue.

DS: Okay.

PM: When I was there, I spent about a month helping them pack the keys. The owner of the shop said, “well, you came in every day. Would you like to learn this trade?” I said, “I don’t know.” I was kind of interested. So that’s how I started. I became an apprentice.

DS: Very nice. And what has kept you interested in this trade? What has it been, 40 years? I’ve been in the neighborhood 30 years, and you were already an old timer when I got here.

PM: In this shop, I’m here 42 years.

DS: Amazing.

PM: I’ve been doing this trade since 1954.

DS: So, what’s kept you in it this long?

PM: Well, it’s a multifaceted kind of trade

with so many different parts of it. It’s real locksmithing, not just somebody going out and putting a lock on a new door or what- ever. The real lock, you think, is very intricate and it’s very precise. It’s not watch making. The watchmaking is smaller, but it’s a little bit above that, and it’s like machining. That’s what we do. So, yeah, you can do a lot with it. It’s very interesting. Then there’s so many parts of it. There’s the safe work, which I did for years. I did a lot of safes. Then there’s the regular locks with the master key systems, which are a lot of numbers that are going on in there so some of that involves coding, when you start doing that, in fact, it is like mechanical coding. It’s very similar. And then you have, the antique club. You have fabricating for things that aren’t made anymore. I do all the churches, really old ones, like Trinity Church and Grace Church.

DS: How interesting!

PM: And I did the New York City Housing.

DS: Do they still use these skeleton keys?

PM: Yes, but it’s a lot of work that goes into it.

DS: You don’t get bored?

PM: Never.

DS: Have you apprenticed someone else to take over some day?

PM: Yes, I have! My sons.

DS: That’s nice to have it stay in the family. That’s one thing I’ve read is that you’re one of the few same owner businesses in New York.

PM: Most of these locksmiths may say they’ve been here for this many years, but they’ve changed ownerships many times. It bothers me so much when I show up at your house to open your door. I usually pick the lock, or I open it without doing any dam- age. These guys today come up there and start drilling everything out and use a crow- bar. I mean, are you kidding? Why not have somebody do it right? When I open a safe, there’s minimal damage. If I can’t manipulate it, then I’m drilling one small hole. There’s been times where I’ve showed up to see a safe and it was completely mutilated.

DS: I would say you’re a real artisan.

PM: I take pride in my trade.

DS: Yes, and you can tell by the reviews

you have online and just by your absolutely cool shop that you have here, that’s been here, like you said, for 42 years. It was really nice talking.

PM: Thank you very much.

DS: Thank you as well!

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