A Closer Look E-mail the author

Auto Parts City
Jay Brosten • 847-623-3535

Jay and Larry Brosten, along with Mayor Steve Pannell, help Rosyln Brosten in a grand-opening ribbon cutting.

The Brosten family has been in the auto parts and recycling business for a long time. Jay Brosten, the vice president of Auto Parts City, said that his grandfather started off selling fruit, but one day happened upon someone who wanted to get rid of some good used tires. Shortly after, he sold those used tires at a profit and realized that tires might be more profitable than fruit.

Brosten’s father, Hy, started working in the tire business, following in his father’s footsteps. Hy later moved into the auto salvage and recycling business when he founded Hy-Way Auto.

Brosten and his brother, Larry, started working at Hy-Way Auto in the 1970s and took over the business when Hy retired in the early 1980s. Although he retired, Brosten said that Hy was still the “PR man…he was still going around, hitting the shops,” since everyone in the auto business in Lake County, Illinois knew him.

Hy-Way was sold to the Ford Motor Company in 2000, and was re-named Greenleaf. The Brostens stayed on as part of the management team for a short time. Greenleaf focused on buying and dismantling newer vehicles, primarily for the insurance industry.

In 1984 the Brostens had purchased Auto Parts City, a self-service operation for older vehicles. The yard was small – only 8 acres – and it was processing 200 to 300 cars per month. The problem with that facility was that it was becoming outdated, but the Brostens weren’t able to get permits for improvements or expansions. At one point, a fence was required to stay in compliance, but the Brostens couldn’t get a permit to erect a fence. “My father was put in jail for contempt for this,” Brosten said.

The Brostens started looking for a new site for their auto recycling business. After looking at other properties, finally settled on a location in Gurnee, Illinois, across the street from the old location.

The property had been the corporate headquarters for a real estate developer and gave them over 19 acres of space to operate their state-of-the-art auto recycling facility, which opened in April of this year. Now, the company can process 10,000 cars per year.

While some auto parts recyclers pull parts for customers and others are a “you-pull-it” facility, Auto Parts City does both. But, Brosten said, “the bulk of our business is walk-in retail; self-service.” Brosten said that besides the added space, the new facility has a better layout. “We were able to separate our retail from our production,” he said. “With the old operation, everything came in the same driveway.”

But layout isn’t what people comment on the most. Brosten said, “People are always amazed how clean this operation is.” That cleanliness changed the minds of some officials who were skeptical about allowing an auto parts recycler to open in their area. Brosten quoted one official as saying, “If you chew crow long enough, you can swallow it.”

But it’s not just clean compared to other scrap businesses. The Green Business League, a national green certification organization, named Auto Parts City as the “Green Business of the Year” in 2010.

On its website, the league said that many thought that naming an auto recycler was surprising, but, “Auto Parts City is a glowing example of environmental progress and excellence in the pursuit of a better and greener operation. Junk cars are likely no one’s idea of a green program, but that can be a short-sighted attitude. Drawing upon European advancements in salvage and recycling concepts, Auto Parts City handles all vehicles in a professional and environmentally-sound manner.”

Brosten said that the company’s goal is to send as little as possible to the landfill. Fluids are drained and some are used to heat the buildings. Antifreeze and washer fluid are packaged for resale. And of course metal is recycled.

Besides buying cars from towing companies and selling parts, the company partners with several charities, so people can bring in cars for recycling and the value goes to one of the charities. That service is just part of what Brosten considers “being good neighbors” with the community.

Another community involvement is offering tours to groups such as Cub Scout troops, and working with shop classes at local schools. He wants to stress that the industry has changed. “These are not junkyards anymore,” Brosten said. “These are automotive recycling facilities. It’s a lot different than it was.”

Looking back at the journey the company has been on, Brosten said that he’s satisfied with the way everything turned out. “It has been ten years in building,” he said. But he’s not ready to rest. Looking forward, he hopes that his company will continue to be one of the innovators in the industry.