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Westside metal recycler celebrates a century


Armed with some tools of his trade, Joe Koscove is seen in the front area of the Koscove Metal building on West Colorado Avenue. He grew up in the 100-year-old family recycling business and has been its owner since 2003.
Westside Pioneer photo
A hundred years ago, words like “repurposing” and “sustainability” had not yet been invented. But finding new uses for old materials was far from unheard of even then, and in 1917 a man named Isaac Koscove decided to open a Colorado Springs storefront focused on recycling various items for local businesses - mainly rags, tires and glass.
       A century later, those word in quotes above have become part of modern vernacular. And the Koscove recycling operation, still in the family and going strong, remains a busy place in the same half-acre lot where it's been for the last half of that century, just west of I-25 at 431 W. Colorado Ave.
       Some adapting to the times has been necessary. Much of what Isaac recycled in his day is unprofitable now. Furthermore, “the things we recycle he'd never have thought about,” Joe Koscove explained in a recent interview.
       Joe ought to know. He's Isaac's great-grandson, and he's owned the business since 2003.
       It was originally called Koscove Junk. Today it's Koscove Metal.
       If Isaac saw the current operation, with its machinery, security and digital technology, “he'd be blown away,” Joe said. “We have forklifts and balers that smash and condense materials. They'd load an entire railroad car with tires, by hand.”
       In all, Koscove currently buys and sells close to 200 types of metals and alloys under the headings of copper, brass and aluminum.
       The latter type of alloy is a good example of the changes over time. It had barely been invented in the early 1900s, but Koscove today moves about 5,000 pounds of aluminum cans a week. “Back in Isaac's day, there was just steel and a little copper and brass,” Joe said. “Nobody knew what aluminum was.”
       Unsurprisingly, Joe Koscove, who bought the business from his dad (Jack) and uncle (Marvin) 14 years ago at age 23, grew up in the trade. It was “forced labor,” he recalled with a laugh. “My very first memory is sitting on a five-gallon bucket, using a magnet to find steel.”

The front of Koscove Metal, in a photo this year.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Before settling in at 431 W. Colorado Ave., the Koscove store was located about half a mile east on Colorado. From the '50s to the '70s it had a celebrated neighbor - Fanny Mae Duncan's Cotton Club - just a few doors down.
       Along the way, the business had a myriad of addresses - mostly on the Near Westside, either as storefronts or salvage yards. And to be truly factual, the word “business” should be plural, because the family ownership has been far from a straight line, and there have been various spinoff enterprises and mergers. Even today, Joe's brothers, Mike and Dave, own a separate business elsewhere in the Springs, named Colorado Industrial Recycling.
       The history, as Joe has unraveled it from family records, almost requires a scorecard. Isaac owned Koscove Junk into the 1930s, when he had to retire for health reasons, and he eventually died in 1953. (As a side note, Joe recently learned that Isaac and his family may even have done recycling work as far back as 1909 in Canon City.)

Jack Koscove (Joe's dad), in 1996 when he was still running the business.
Courtesy of Joe Koscove

       Over the years - starting the “forced labor” family tradition - Isaac's sons Morris (Joe's grandpa), Sol, Sam, Myers and Herman helped out with the business. In the late '30s all the brothers but Herman started Big 4 Auto Parts, merging it with Koscove Junk. The most active of the “Big 4” were Morris and Sol.
       The next major changes came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during which Big 4 was sold, Morris and his son Jack (Joe's father to be) started Big 3 Auto Parts and Sol started Payless Auto.
       Sol's son Marvin, previously in the stock market, started helping with his dad's business in the late 1980s. When Sol died a few years later, Marvin ran Payless alone.
       Meanwhile, Koscove Junk continued to exist, merged at this point with Big 3.
       In 1990, Morris died. Health issues had slowed him down since 1987. Jack by this time was exclusively running Big 3 and Koscove Junk, which was renamed Koscove Scrap Processing (KSP).
       Adding a new thread to the family ownership web, Marvin and Jack partnered in 1998 to merge KSP with Payless. Marvin owned the 431 W. Colorado property.
       In 2003 (as noted earlier), Joe Koscove came into the ownership picture. It wasn't his first career choice. He had gone to the University of Northern Colorado, studying business marketing and psychology.
       But the timing was also pivotal for the family business(es). “Marvin was really sick and he told me, 'I want you to take over,'” Joe said. “I said 'hell, no,' I did that growing up, and I don't like it.”
       It took a couple of months for Joe to get used to the idea. “I was young, and I knew the business really well,” he said, remembering his train of thought. “It can take people months to learn the different types of metals.”
       Looking back now, he said, “I'm glad Marvin talked me into it. There aren't many businesses that can say they've been around for 100 years.”

In a photo possibly from the 1940s, an impressive number of scrap tires are loaded on a truck in front of Big 4 (owned by sons of Isaac Koscove). The man standing next to the truck is believed to be Sol Koscove.
Courtesy of Joe Koscove

       In buying out his dad and Uncle Marvin, Joe took over the property, the Payless name and the KSP name, which he changed to Koscove Metal.
       The business has 9 to 12 employees. Joe estimated the breakdown of customers as 60-70 percent businesses, 20-30 percent residents and 10 percent government.
       During his time as owner, Joe has sought to expand entrepreneurially, and not just in the profit sense. Koscove Metal is just one of four companies he owns now. The other three are a landscaping business, a winter-clothing product line and a service helping other companies start recycling programs.
       He also volunteers himself to the Colorado Springs Police Department on cases involving metals, to testify as an expert witness in court or to help detectives working on cases involving metal theft.
       But Joe Koscove is most proud of his involvement with charitable causes. Through his enterprises, he contributes to six different charities. Probably the biggest, he said, is Special Kids Special Families (SKSF), a Westside-based non-profit that supports families caring for youths or adults with developmental disabilities. He's even been the SKSF Santa at Christmas, giving out toys and food servings by the hundreds.
       A special celebration of the Koscove 100-year anniversary is scheduled in July, including music, food and art. Proceeds will go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado. Stop into the store for more details.
       As for Koscove Metal's next century, a continuation of the family line is currently a question mark. Suzie, Joe's wife, has been part of the operation for about six years. So far, though, Joe's only son, age 20, has said he's not interested. But who knows what the future will hold? Joe himself can attest to that.

Westside Pioneer article