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About Utah: Salt Lake City knife-sharpening business turns 100

The Lorenz Co. is a knife-sharpening business that has been a fixture in downtown Salt Lake City since 1910.

Know what they're doing to celebrate turning 100?

Moving.

I saw Mark Woodward, the third owner in Lorenz's uninterrupted history, putting up a sign in the shop's window this week, announcing the move.

At first, I assumed it was a going-out-of-business notice. Or at least a going-into-retirement sign.

Lorenz's current location, just east of Main Street on 400 South, is boxed in by TRAX lines and commuter traffic that zips along just feet from the door. The setup is ideal — for a hermit. Alcatraz has more parking.

No wonder they'd want to pack it in at an even hundred.

But Woodward explained two things about the knife-sharpening business:

1. It provides a service immune to either high technology or big boxes like Walmart and Home Depot.

2. The business might be 100, but Woodward isn't. He's 46.

Five years ago, Woodward happened to step inside Lorenz to look at the knives and wound up purchasing the store.

"They said they were looking for a guy to learn the trade and buy the business," says Woodward, who at the time was phasing out of an auto-glass enterprise he was running. "I said I'd give it a shot for a year. I liked it. I bought it."

That was 2005. By 2010, he says he's finally feeling comfortable enough to call himself a cutler — the official name for a person who sharpens blades.

"It's a real art," says Woodward. "It takes years to learn."

Woodward learned the art from Tom Warner, Lorenz's longtime cutler who started working on the big wheel grinders in the back room 50 years ago — when he was 24.

Warner was trained by Lou Lorenz, who had been trained by his father, Silvio Lorenz, the business' namesake and founder.

Silvio Lorenz was raised in the Italian Alps and became a master craftsman in Switzerland. He emigrated to America in 1906, settling for a time in New York City until he grew restless for the mountains. He was on his way to California in 1910 when the Wasatch range stopped him in his tracks.

He married a local girl named Edith Julian, and they had a son, the above-mentioned Lou.

At first, Silvio Lorenz did his sharpening from a cart he hitched to his horses. Later, he set up shop at the present location of the Salt Palace. Finally, in 1940, he moved into the store on 400 South that is about to give way to progress.

"Seventy years in one location. It'll be sad to leave," sighs Woodward. "But there's only so much you can do without parking."

The new location will be just a couple of blocks away, at 213 E. 300 South — and all the important stuff will make the move, including the grinding wheels and the indispensable Warner.

Warner only comes in occasionally these days — a 50-year-man gets his privileges — but he provides the all-important link from Silvio Lorenz to Woodward, and he knows it.

"Mark's skill is coming along very well; he's got talent," says Warner of Lorenz's "new" owner. "But I tease him. Sometimes I'll be sharpening something, and I'll turn my back to him and he'll say, 'What are you doing?' and I'll say, 'Well, I'm not going to teach you all at once. You'll fire me.' "

As for Woodward, he continues to marvel at the ongoing demand for an old-fashioned, old-school skill that refuses to go out of fashion.

"It's one thing the new technology can't touch," he says. "They haven't made the material that doesn't go dull or a better way to sharpen it than this. It would blow you away if you knew how many knives we sharpen a week." (About 600.)

He's hoping for many happy returns at the new location. Plus, he has sons and daughters — Blair, 22; Nick, 20; Brent, 15 and Alison, 13 — who just might decide to become cutlers themselves.

"I'm in it for the long haul," he smiles. "That's why we're moving. It's the only way we'll ever make another hundred."

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.