Katy Lawson has run ABC Locksmith on 18th Street off of Mission Street since 1986. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz)

Katy Lawson is the kind of business owner who plans to visit the store every workday once she retires.

“This is my happy place,” said Lawson, the 77-year-old who operates ABC Locksmith on 18th Street off of Mission. “It’s just a great feeling to help people … especially about things that people can’t get in other places.”

She helped her friend Loren Fowler open shop in 1970, and he sold it to her 16 years later. It’s one of only two locksmith shops citywide that work on older locks, she said; the other is Warman Security in Polk Gulch.

“My store gets different things than an average locksmith store would get, only because I’m old: old car locks, ’65 Chevys … anything old,” she said. 

The neighborhood has changed, as has the industry. Locksmith shops have become uncommon, and the rising popularity of electronic locks and online services such as Amazon are game-changers, she said. Still, putting the pandemic aside, revenue at ABC Locksmith has remained relatively stable.

“We’re kind of like grandfathered into everything,” she said. 

Fifty-one years ago

Lawson hadn’t planned to make a career of locksmithing.

In 1969, she was working with coin-operated machines — vending machines, jukeboxes, pinball machines and so on.  On the side, she was taking a course on locksmithing.

Fowler, her friend, once asked her to watch the shop while he took his wife on a vacation. But he also wanted to retire, and when he got back, he convinced her to buy the business.

“So I did, and it was kind of like buying a gold mine,” she said. “It keeps coming and coming and coming. Fifty years later, here we are.”

Her favorite part is that people only come to her when they need help. It’s also been fun — Lawson gets to use her hands and pretend she has x-ray vision to make something work, she said. She likens it to working on a car. 

“You get to see something different every day,” she said. “Every car has an ignition, a trunk, a door and a glove box on it, and every manufacturer’s is different, and almost every other model’s is different.”

When Lawson retires, she hopes to repeat her friend Fowler’s habit — he stopped in every day the shop was open until he passed away in 1993. She calls it the perfect retirement, more fun than the responsibility of overseeing the shop. Its minutiae, such as dealing with the city and business permits, can definitely go to a staffer, she added.

“I’d be here so you can pick my brain because, I guess, when you’re as old as dirt, you’ve got something,” she said with a chuckle.

David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in...

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4 Comments

  1. These folks are a San Francisco treasure. I have used them exclusively since I moved to the Mission in 1997, and they are consistently awesome, helpful and very informative.

  2. ABC Locksmith are exceptional, including the installers. Personal and trustworthy people. Thank you Katy!!

  3. I love supporting women owned businesses! Have been going to ABC since the 1980s. The shop and proprietress.

  4. Best locksmith, super helpful, patient and knowledgeable. Thanks Katy for your help over the years.

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