SPEARFISH — The owners of one of the most established businesses on Spearfish’s Main Street have turned over their keys to a couple who said they are honored to have met them, and are optimistic about their new venture.
Gene’s Lock Shop opened 40 years ago. Its owners Gene and Yvonne Ficek started their business in a 50-square foot room located in the back of their home on Elkhorn Street in Belle Fourche.
“We started small,” Yvonne said. “It was a tough time for us. We worked so many odd jobs like putting up chain link fence, painting houses or anything else we could do to keep our store stocked and remain in business.”
Gene said owning a business takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
“In the early years, there were more tears than anything else,” Gene said. “But we kept it going.”
In 1979, three Spearfish businessmen approached the Ficek’s who told them that if they moved, it would be the best businesses decision they would ever make.
“They guaranteed we’d be successful and they were right,” Gene said.
Their inventory soon expanded to include everything from pad locks in all sizes, to bike locks, electric combination locks and security boxes for valuables or firearms, and so much more. In 2012, Gene’s Lock Shop provided 514 visits to assist individuals who have locked themselves out and sold 1,800 keys.
The new owners, who took over on Jan. 1, are Angie and Bryan Viehauser. They moved to Spearfish three weeks ago from Austin, Minn. But, this wasn’t their first time in Spearfish. Bryan, who is a certified locksmith, was on vacation in Spearfish with his wife in May 2011.
“My husband loves to stop by lock shops wherever we go,” Angie said. “We ended up talking to Gene and Yvonne for quite awhile, and they told us they were thinking of retiring soon.”
The Viehauser’s stayed in touch with the Ficek’s and little did they know in a couple of years they would be moving west to take over a business of their very own.
As far as any changes, the Viehausers said they will keep the name of the store the same in order to honor the Ficek’s legacy in this community.
“We wanted to honor them because they’ve done so much for this business,” Angie said.
The minor changes that will occur include interior improvements, such as a new coat of paint. A few of the new changes include expanding the selection of high-quality gun safes that will fit the budget for any customer.
“We’ll sell child proof cabinets all the way up to high security vaults,” Bryan said.
The couple will also be creating a website for customers to order items online and advertise more.
Bryan also has experience in the commercial construction and carpentry business, so he has a full understanding of commercial door hardware.
But, before the Ficek’s retire they will be busy cleaning out the store that has been a part of their lives for so many years.
The hardest part for both is the possibility of losing touch with so many of their loyal customers.
“Without a doubt we couldn’t have made it without them. Yvonne and I have known some of our customers for decades and we’re friends now, and I’m pretty sure we always will be,” Gene said.
The thing Gene will miss the least will be the late night lockouts when he would have to battle below freezing temperatures, wind as cold as ice and slick roads.
“I’d get called at all times of the day,” he said. “No matter what time it was I had to go, and over the years I’ve had many, many experiences … some good and some bad.”
One of the stories that sticks most out in Gene’s mind is when his daughter called to tell him she had locked her keys in the car.
“I’m not kidding … the wind chill was 85 below. I just remember being so cold and thinking of the fact that it’s midnight and I should not be out here,” he said.
As for the best accomplishment in his career as a locksmith is the fact that he has never locked his keys in the car while on a job.
“That would be embarrassing and I’m so glad that this didn’t happen to me,” Gene said, with a smile. “I seriously wouldn’t have been able to show my face around town again.”
Yvonne said one of her fondest memories occurred about seven years ago when she was able to open Yvonne’s Cards and Yarn in the back of the store, which had been completely remodeled.
“I love to knit and I love teaching people how to knit,” she said. “
Women of all ages would make it part of their regular schedule to stop in, pick up some patterns and choose from a variety of yarn and other knitting supplies.
When it came to knitting circles, Yvonne’s events were more about fellowship than anything. There were always a few moments when a little gossip would take center stage, but in the end this became the highlight of Yvonne’s day for quite some time, and the catalyst for her to create lifelong relationships and share her passion with others, whether they were beginners or experienced knitters.
Even though she is retiring, Yvonne and Cindy Wilson will be instructing a sock class at Dairy Queen in Spearfish beginning mid-January and they plan on organizing several more in the future.
To celebrate this milestone of sustaining a business for 40 years, friends and family gathered for an open house Thursday at the shop. Homemade cookies and fresh coffee, which came with a complimentary coffee mug that donned the businesses’ information, treated attendees as everyone reminisced of the moments that have passed over the years.
One after another, people filed in sharing hugs and tears together.
“This experience has been so gratifying,” Gene said. “Sure it’s been one heck of a ride, but I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
So what’s on deck for retirement?
The Ficek’s have dreamed of seeing the country for many years. The couple, who have been married since 1968, are the parents of two daughters so they’ll spend more time with family. But, after serving two tours in Vietnam from 1968-1969, Gene and Yvonne’s plans are to visit 25 of his fellow soldiers and dear friends, who live in various locations throughout the U.S.
“They are all over,” he said. “But we’ve figured this out and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
The Ficek’s will also travel to Hawaii next year.
Gene’s Lock Shop is located at 521 Main St., in Spearfish and can be contacted by calling the Viehausers at 642-4542.