‘We Cut One Key A Day,’ A Downtown Locksmith Says, ‘But There’s Hope. We’ll Be Back.’

“I felt like a movie star,” Harry Santiago joked about his recent photo shoot for the Downtown Alliance’s portrait series. Granted, Santiago’s line of work doesn’t typically involve posing for photographers. Since the late ‘70s, Santiago has worked as a locksmith, and in 1981, he became his own boss with Telestar Locksmiths (79 Pine Street), based in Lower Manhattan. 

Santiago has weathered plenty of rough patches since starting his own business, including the events surrounding both September 11 and Hurricane Sandy, but nothing has quite prepared him for the toll COVID-19 has taken on business. “It’s been difficult,” Santiago admitted. 

Although Telestar has a handful of residential clients, most of his business comes from management groups that oversee commercial properties and banks like Capital One and Wells Fargo. With so many people working remotely, business has almost ground to a halt. “We get some work, but most of the building staff is gone,” Santiago said of the properties he typically services. “People are working from their homes. Things are totally different now.”

Foot traffic coming into the store has also plummeted. While social-distancing guidelines remain in effect, only one customer is allowed in the shop at a time.“We normally cut 100 to 200 keys a day,” Santiago said. “Maybe now we cut one key a day. Sales are almost zero.” He currently sees just one or two people walk by the shop on what was once a bustling street. 

Santiago is doing his best to persevere during difficult times, pointing out that every other business on his block has shuttered amid the shelter-in-place orders.

“We’re the only ones open,” he said. “The liquor store next to us is closed, there’s a barber on the other side that’s closed. There was a jeweler, but he closed up. But there’s hope. We’ll be back. I know we’ll be back.”