Locksmith plans to slow down his business


After nearly 50 years as a locksmith, Jesse Kovener has decided it may be time to hang up the keys.

The 89-year-old Seymour man may not be as quick as he once was and may not have the stamina he had when he started Kovener’s Lock and Key in 1970, but his mind is as sharp as the tools he uses to discover the correct combinations to solve most any key problem.

“See these here,” he said, pointing at tumblers, tiny pins of various lengths used to make locks unique. “You have to make sure these line up right or that key won’t work.”

It’s Kovener’s job to make sure the tumblers, pins, springs and everything else in the small mechanism is precise so the lock will not open without the correct key.

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Kovener — while sitting at his kitchen table — used a lock a customer dropped off to explain tumblers and other pieces of a pin tumbler lock.

So maybe Kovener isn’t fully retiring, but he does want to lessen his workload because at his age, it’s difficult to keep up with the physical demands of any job, he said.

“I want to take care of my customers I’ve had for years and take care of them the best I can,” he said.

He has helped customers re-key locks and master keys, set up master key systems, re-key vehicles for local dealerships and individuals and more.

Kovener said he changed the locks of around 25 doors a year ago for a factory in town. The doors were located in three buildings on the factory’s property, which forced Kovener to walk great distances to get to and from each door.

A few weeks ago, Kovener turned the factory down when they asked if he could re-key the doors again.

“It’s entirely too much walking, and I had to tell them they needed to find someone else,” he said.

His shop in the backyard of his house has built up an inventory of machines, tools, equipment, supplies and a lot of keys.

“I’d say there are between 8,000 and 10,000 blank keys back there,” he said. “But when it’s cold out, I work inside the house.”

His daughter, Debbie Tatlock, said seeing the shop brings the perspective of how much work he has done throughout the years.

“You have to see it to understand what he does,” she said while walking through the shop filled with everything he needed, plus a few mementos like the old Kovener’s Lock and Key wooden sign.

He has owned and operated the business since 1970 since he received his diploma from the National Locksmith Institute in Little Falls, New Jersey, on April 29, 1969.

In January 1970, he performed his first locksmith job, and Kovener’s Lock and Key was born.

Kovener worked for Dunlap Company as a project manager and did locksmith work from 1970 until his retirement in 1984. He thought locksmith work would be a hobby in retirement.

“I retired with the idea of not working,” he said with a laugh. “It was a hobby that turned into a full-time job.”

Once he started, demand grew rapidly.

“Once people found out I was doing it, it’s been never-ending phone calls ever since,” he said.

He became interested in being a locksmith while still working for Dunlap Company, where he oversaw 13 JCPenney stores. He needed services from a locksmith from time to time and decided to start himself after talking with Monk Tewell in Columbus.

The challenge of each job is what has made the work so enjoyable throughout his career.

“Every lock is different, and no two locks are exactly the same,” he said. “One lock may take you 15 minutes to pick, and you make work on another one for an hour and feel like you’ve gotten nowhere. There’s always a challenge with it.”

The job hasn’t always been too pleasurable, such as the time he put new locks on a home that was repossessed and the people had left the home in such a poor condition.

“They had dogs and left every room a mess,” he said.

There also were interesting times, like when he found items lost or hidden behind two safes at the Lynn Hotel in Seymour that has left him wondering throughout the years.

“When I got one of the safes out, underneath the counter, there was a pint of whiskey,” he said. “It fell down behind there and was sitting on the floor, and that was there during the war, so I guess you’d say it had a lot of age on it.”

Kovener said he didn’t know exactly how long the bottle had been there and wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but it’s something that can make the mind wonder.

Kovener is a 1947 graduate of Shields High School and is a veteran of World War II after serving in the U.S. Air Force in Germany.

On Jan. 6, 1952, he married his wife, Elsie, and they recently celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, something else he’s proud of.

“We had a get-together at our church,” he said, pointing through a photo album.

Although with his toolbox directly behind the kitchen table, it looks as though retirement will be filled with just a little bit more work.

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