Mark D’Addorio

Locksmith Mark D’Addario is intrigued by the intricacies of outsmarting devices designed to keep people out.

When a man failed to show up to work and didn’t answer his phone, and cops found his door locked with no one answering, Mark D’Addario was called.

He opened the door. The man was inside suffering diabetic shock. So D’Addario, a locksmith, was part of saving a life.

Other times he has opened other doors, and the police have found a body.

D’Addario has also jiggered locks whose keys were lost to retrieve drugs in the ICU and sprung slow-cooking dogs from cars whose frantic owners couldn’t get in.

He has opened hundreds of safe deposit boxes whose owners locked away their most valuable possessions and then lost the key. One held a half-gnawed stick of Red Man chewing tobacco; he noted that with deposit boxes “sometimes there’s weird stuff in there.”

He has customers for whom he’s opened the same home door lock dozens of times, and he has committed legal break-ins for the IRS, FBI and the DEA that he can’t talk about.

It’s been his steady business for over four decades, sometimes routine but frequently revealing something about the human race that lies behind a simple phrase that he repeats with a bit of wonder in his voice: “People and keys,” he said.

“People act as if keys have feet of their own and motivation, they go away on their own,” he said. “Maybe there’s a desert island somewhere with keys and single socks.”

D’Addario didn’t start out to be a locksmith. The son of a high-ranking GAO official, he moved around quite a bit after being adopted by his parents in Seattle. He went to Columbine High School in Colorado and at various times attended the universities of Colorado and Texas. He played soccer in Texas, skied in Colorado. He thought his studies might lead to a job in engineering medical devices like wheelchairs or prosthetics.

But, like most college students, he needed to make some cash. The brother of a friend was a locksmith and explained it to him. An inveterate puzzle solver, he said now that “if you’re a locksmith you probably like puzzles.” It was partly just being happy with a logical challenge. “It’s things that are determined to keep you out, and you have to get in,” he said.

He started a correspondence course and was caught.

“I really enjoyed it, and I was making good money,” he said.

He worked in Texas for several years; then, in a trade magazine, he saw a locksmith business in Jackson for sale. Something, you might say, clicked.

Though D’Addario hadn’t been dreaming about Jackson Hole, he had been here and to Yellowstone and had a good impression of the area. He found he was among the crowd who found that Jackson “has a magical draw — people who vacationed here once when they were a kid end up deciding they have to live here.”

He bought the business, Teton Locksmith then and now, and in 1982 moved here and took it over with his girlfriend, also a locksmith.

It didn’t start out a big success: The rule is that it takes a population of about 30,000 people to support a locksmith, and that made Jackson a marginal proposition.

“Business was really slow,” he said. “There were times I had to ask, ‘Can I go to the grocery store?’ ‘Can I have $10 for the weekend?’ I did a lot of reading.”

Fortunately, reading is something he has always done with a lot of joy: “I’m a reader, an avid devourer of history, geopolitics, economics.”

Most of the business is installing locks, either in new construction or “rekeying,” replacing the locks in a place where the owner realizes there’s a lot of keys unaccounted for. He opens lots of deposit boxes and safes, and sometimes cars, but fewer of those over the years as the necessary equipment has become more varied and expensive and his back and knees have become less bendy.

D’Addario continues to be intrigued by the intricacies of outsmarting devices designed to keep people out, and a bit mystified by the fact that fewer and fewer people have any interest in how things work. He tells of a client who “couldn’t use a screwdriver” and, jokingly, of those who “can’t tie their shoes.”

He also warns of gadgets such as electronic locks. When Teton Village lost power in a storm a few years back, he made a lot of money. He said it’s a good idea “if you’re over-reliant on electronics” to imagine an outage and “it’s 30 below and you can’t get in.”

He recommends a key override, or even just sticking with an old-style lock: “I work on mechanical locks 100 years old and they work fine.”

And don’t wait until you lose your last key and have to call him. D’Addario said he’s been known to cut a deal for people who obviously can’t afford the locksmith chore they vitally need, but he is also in business.

“If someone calls me at night, out of town, it’s not cheap,” he said.

“People act as if keys have feet of their own and motivation, they go away on their own.” — Mark D’Addario locksmith

Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or mark@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

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