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Perseverance has been key for this Ledyard business

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Ledyard — Debbie Vessels says when her husband, David, decided to spend $400 on a correspondence course in locksmithing, she told him it was a lot of money. "I hoped he would make something out of it," she said. "We still laugh about that."

That course led the couple to open AA Lock & Key 35 years ago next to their Route 117 home. The co-owners hosted a reception for community and town leaders to not only note the business's anniversary, but also to announce a donation program to area nonprofit organizations.

AA Lock & Key is presenting a $350 check to a different nonprofit for each of the next 10 months, as a thank you to the community. Representatives from Norwich-based Reliance Health, which offers numerous programs to help those with mental health issues, were on hand at the reception last week to receive the first check from the Vessels.

"Reliance Health has supported our business a lot during the past few years, so we thought it was fitting" it got the first check, Debbie said. "It was a real obvious choice."

Future recipients of the business's generosity will be based on suggestions submitted through AA Lock & Key's Facebook page — facebook.com/AALockandKey — and the company's e-newsletters.

"We're very proud that we've managed to remain in business for this length of time," Debbie said, standing in front of several photos showing the business's development through the years. "There's been many changes in our lives and in the security field over the years. We've been very fortunate to have many supportive family members and friends, in addition to our many loyal clients and customers."

AA Lock and Key specializes in selling and installing mechanical locks, push-button locks, access control card-reading systems, combination safes and automatic door openers, among other similar items.

The business also makes duplicate keys, and it was David Vessels' interest in how the keys that he cut for customers worked in a lock while he was employed at Holdridge's Hardware and Garden Center that prompted him to pursue the locksmithing correspondence course, and eventually open AA.

"The years have flown by," he said, "but it's been a long time, too. It's given us a comfortable life, but it's been a lot of hard work, too."

"It's had its moments, it's had its years," Debbie added. "COVID-19 was a big setback, but we're very thankful for the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans that we received, with the help of the Dime Savings Bank."

The payroll also consists of the Vessels' nephew Dan Holdridge, a locksmith technician, and office assistant Joanne Mercer. "We had to cut my hours and those of Joanne's during the pandemic," Debbie said. "We still had to serve the public, though — challenging at best."

David Vessels said they had to make adjustments at the pandemic's height, wearing rubber gloves and facemasks and using hand sanitizer when going to commercial and residential customers. "We tried to work outside as much as possible. It was tough, but we made it." A lot of AA's clients are banks and schools.

Holdridge has been with AA for eight years and "will be the face of the business as we move forward," Debbie said. "Hardly a week goes by when we don't receive a compliment or two about his work. Joanne is also a joy to work with."

"It's been a challenging time, but it's looking better now," she said.

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