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Hines Sight / The key to success in American business

Published 6:56 am, Sunday, January 12, 2014
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By Patricia A. Hines

The Parks and Recreation Department has put out the call for mobile food vendors for Sasco and Southport beaches.

If I had the perfect idea and the capital, I'd submit my bid. And be one happy entrepreneur.

My paternal grandfather always said you never get anywhere in life unless you work for yourself, which brings unique satisfaction and its own kind of rewards.

He was one to know.

I grew up in a small business family. Before I was born, Poppy was in partnership with another man and together they built houses. In fact, the house in which I was raised in Norwalk was built by them.

But his greatest achievement was as the owner (with a number of stockholders here and in New York) of a lock manufacturing company -- New England Lock and Hardware, which for years operated in South Norwalk in a small factory building.

In the years when my father was a young married man, he had a number of odd jobs. But he eventually started working for my grandfather at the lock shop, rising up from being on the factory floor to president of the company. My mother even assembled locks from home in the early days of the business.

In its heyday, the family-run company was one of the premier lock makers. The hallmark of the business was the deadbolt lock, made under the licensed name Segalock, the history of which began in the early 20th century.

Sam Segal was a New York City police officer, who invented a jimmy-proof lock in 1912. According to www.segallock.com, "The lock was quickly accepted as the best way to secure a door against unauthorized entry due to physical attack."

The locks were big sellers. (They still can be seen on the doors in scenes of a number of New York City-based TV shows and movies.)

I remember every time we drove by Co-Op City, the multi-unit residential complex in the Bronx, Dad would have to relay the story about how our locks were installed in each of the buildings -- and that he and one of his longtime friends and workers did the job themselves. It got to the point that when we knew we were approaching Co-Op City, a collective groan could be heard in the car.

Our lock company employed thousands of people over the span of its existence, including the former police chief and now mayor of Norwalk, Harry Rilling. I worked there during high school and college. I cut keys, assembled cylinders and packed locks for shipping. And I got an education -- about working a blue-collar job and about people and other cultures.

The company eventually was sold to another manufacturer, and my father retired. Unfortunately, the people who worked for him -- many of them longtime employees -- lost their jobs when the new owner moved the operation out of state.

According to the Small Business Administration, in 2010, the year for which the latest statistics are available, there were nearly 28 million small businesses, which are defined as those with 500 or fewer employees. And 64 percent, or almost 12 million, new jobs created between 1993 and 2011 were in small businesses.

In a nutshell, small businesses keep our economy moving. So remember that when you go shopping in Fairfield. And if you don't already shop locally, start.

Now, back to coming up with an idea for my food truck.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.