The Keys To Longevity

A true family business for five generations, Bradley Lock & Key celebrates 140 years

When Andrew Bradley spoke with his grandmother about taking over Bradley Lock & Key from his grandfather, who had worked into his eighties before becoming ill, she gave him an unexpected answer.

“She did not want me to get into the business,” he recalls with a laugh. “Our equipment was outdated, and in some ways the shop was still in the 20th century. She didn’t want that for me.”

But at 24 years old, Bradley had some ideas that could keep the family looking forward while also honoring what came before. So he took the keys to the famous key shop and started a new chapter in a story that’s more than a century old.

Unlocking The Past

The story begins in 1883 with Simon Bradley. He opened the shop on the corner of State and Drayton in downtown Savannah. (Today the shop is on the same intersection, but a different corner. The original site is now a parking garage.) Simon Bradley, and later his son Aaron, offered key and lock services but would repair almost anything such as luggage or umbrellas.

Andrew’s grandfather, William Houdini Bradley—better known as Dini—took over the shop in the 1950s.

“When people think of this shop, they think mostly of my granddad,” Bradley says. “A lot of people think he’s the one that started the business.”

As you may have guessed, Dini’s unique nickname was inspired by the man who turned locksmithing into magical entertainment, Harry Houdini. Aaron Bradley (William’s dad) moonlighted as a hypnotist and his wife was a family friend of the famous magician, or so the story goes.

“That part of our history has its share of both facts and rumors, and even we cannot always tell which is which,” Bradley laughs.

A signed photo of Houdini is just one of the many artifacts that make the shop feel a little like a museum, or a life-sized time capsule: there’s an 18th century cannon, a large church bell and the bar stools used for sit-ins by civil rights activists protesting segregated lunch counters. There are also thousands and thousands of old keys, many of which can still open doors in downtown Savannah and older neighborhoods like Ardsley Park.

Smart Keys

Many of the keys that people need help with today are more complicated than a piece of shaped metal. New cars use transponder keys, or chip keys, that are equipped with radio frequency identification. Offering services on these and other types of smart keys is what helped Bradley bring this historical store back to the future.

“We knew that if we wanted to stay open, we’d need to take a different route,” Bradley says. “Navigating that has actually been really fun. And our focus is still on our customers, just like it was with my grandfather. He tried to help everyone he could. If a customer couldn’t afford his services, he’d find a way to work with them. He never wanted to turn anyone away.”

Bradley recalls that his grandfather loved the shop so much it would get him in trouble with his wife.

“He would stay here and help anybody that came through the door,” Bradley says. “Sometimes my grandmother would have to call him and scream at him to come home.”

A Legacy Handed Down

Enthusiasm and dedication helped Dini Bradley stay active for several years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that affects movement. Symptoms of tremors, usually in the hands, and muscle stiffness throughout the body begin gradually, but do worsen over time. Treatment can help manage symptoms but there is no cure. Eventually, people with Parkinson’s disease may have difficulties with balance, walking and speaking.

“My grandfather was running service calls until he couldn’t drive,” Bradley recalls. “He was always staying active. It wasn’t until much later that his disease progressed to the point where he couldn’t run the shop anymore. He was about 83 years old when he felt he had to retire.”

Bradley would bring his grandfather into the shop for short periods of time, knowing how much he enjoyed simply being there.

“He’d be sitting there and everybody that came in would go straight to him,” Bradley says.

Dini Bradley passed away in December 2019 at age 85, but his legacy lives on through his grandson’s work, just as he inherited his grandfather Simon’s legacy decades before. It is a 140-year-old enterprise that has outlasted many national businesses.

Andrew Bradley’s embrace of computer technology in keys and safes will keep this iconic store in business for years to come, but its soul will continue through the principals of his grandfather.

“We wanted to modernize, but also keep Bradley what Bradley is,” he says. “Always putting the customer first, always treating everyone with respect and kindness.”

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