Bradley Lock and Key, a Savannah institution

Published: Jun. 9, 2015 at 9:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2015 at 5:48 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A Savannah tradition, one that has endured for more than a century, started with a hunch.

"My grandfather started it,” said Dini Bradley, the third-generation owner of Bradley Key. “He rode around a long time on the trolley and he had seen people with big old necklaces on with keys on them. He said ‘that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to make keys.'”

And, since 1883, that's what members of the Bradley family have done in downtown Savannah, in four different locations on the corner of Drayton and State Streets leading up to their current location at 24 State.

"Cars started moving around,” said Bradley, “so I decided I'd better get a parking lot. And we've been here ever since.”

It's what is inside that building that makes Bradley's unlike almost any other store you walk into today, a massive collection of antiques and collector's items, people making things by hand and employees making work a second home.

"Everybody's been here so many years,” said James Lucas, who has worked at Bradley's for 17 years. “So, it's like coming to a family every day.”

“There's James and Tony and Woody,” Andrew Bradley, the owner's grandson, said of some of the longtime employees. “And Woody's a second generation of his family. His dad was our safe technician and he's now our safe technician. And he grew up literally right above the shop.”

But the heart of the shop, now and for six decades, is Dini Bradley, still keeping up with changes in his industry.

"The cars are the biggest change,” he said. “Now they've all got chips in the heads of the keys, the new ones. And you have to know exactly what the hell you're doing to program it.”

One of the stories in the store is the owner's name, which is a shortened version of his middle name, Houdini.

"My granddad's dad,” says Andrew Bradley, “was a hypnotist and him and Houdini would go back and forth with tricks and shows, they'd do shows together.”

The magic now is inside the key-covered walls where Savannah's past is present.

"We have $2 keys, but the average is about $1,” said George Seckinger, who has worked at Bradley's since 1975. “Mr. Bradley and myself been known to make them out of drill bits and pieces of metal because some of the older locks. You can't get the key blanks for anymore.”

The expertise of Bradley's key makers is one reason people visit the store, but it's not the only reason.

“He's always interacting with customers,” office manager Lisa Bedgood said of Bradley. “And all the small kids who come in, they always leave with keys. He'll put them on a key ring and tell them, those are your keys to Disneyland or those are your keys to the Batmobile.”

"We can do anything, fix just about anything,” added Andrew Bradley, who has become a locksmith and hopes to keep the family tradition going by taking over the store from his grandfather someday. “We can make keys for the new cars and still fix the old Victorian houses, so we do both ends of the spectrum.”

And, there's the added benefit of never knowing what you might see on the shelves or walls when you enter the store.

“You can learn a lot from walking in here, from asking Mr. Bradley what is this cannon, where did that bell come from?” says Bedgood. “You can learn a lot from Bradley's.”

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