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Winnipegger cracks 75-year-old bookstore safe

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A Winnipeg Transit driver with a knack for safe-cracking is being celebrated after unlocking a mysterious old safe in a Baltimore book store last week.

The safe, believed to be at least 75 years old, was already in the building when Red Emma's Bookstore took over the space last year. The store issued a challenge online a few weeks ago, asking people to come down and try to open the safe.

Winnipegger Rick Ammazzini took up cracking safes as a hobby 12 years ago. He heard about the challenge through an online group of fellow safe-cracking enthusiasts.

"As a joke they put it in the group, saying 'you should go and do this!' As a rebuttal I said if you guys pay for it, I’ll go do it."

Ammazzini started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the $1,300 needed for airfare. Within four days, he hit his goal.

He flew to Baltimore last Wednesday. Upon arrival, he immediately headed to the bookstore.

"Usually this lock should only take an hour or an hour and a half," he said. "I was met with some trouble, the lock wasn’t performing the way it should have been."

Ammazzini spent five hours on that first day trying to crack the safe, with no success. After the store closed for the day, he checked in with his online group for help.

"These guys have way more knowledge about the type of locks, the brand of the locks, how old the locks are, how they’re manufactured and which safes have this certain kind of locks," Ammazzini said.

The discussion helped him find out what kind of lock he was dealing with, and how it was constructed.

"The next day, with that knowledge, I was able to sort of discern what the lock was doing and what failures I was feeling," said Ammazzini.

He showed up when the store opened, and spent all day Thursday turning the safe's dial and listening for imperfections in the gears.

"I was touching the dial for ten hours," he said. "My hands were actually black from the brass, I was touching it so long."

Finally, with ten minutes left until closing time, Ammazzini unlocked the safe. He tested the door to make sure it would open, but the store owner wanted to wait until the next morning to look inside.

Ammazzini didn't have his hopes up that there would be anything of value in the safe.

"I know from experience that there really never is anything in there," he said. "The store owner was very excited because he doesn’t have the letdowns that I've had, where I open up the safe an there's never anything in there … he thinks it's filled with gold and diamonds."

Ultimately, there was nothing of value in the safe. Just some empty wooden drawers, some paper clips and an old paystub.  Ammazzini said it was still a great experience.

"Baltimore is not the city people make it out to be, it's a nice town, everybody was friendly."

He said anyone with an old safe they want opened should give him a call. "I’m not going to promise I’m going to get it open, but I can come and try."

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