SCHENECTADY — As Schenectady Hardware & Electric President Chris Spraragen stood inside one of the rooms where he was doing work at the Destine Preparatory Charter School, he smiled at his sister Brooke. They recalled the evolution of their family business.
Schenectady Hardware & Electric was founded in 1923 by Chris and Brooke’s great-grandfather Benjamin Spraragen, who had come to Schenectady to attend Union College — becoming one of the college’s first graduates in 1916 of the college’s electrical engineering program.
The company started off with Benjamin Spraragen wiring homes and running a hardware store. Now, it’s owned by a fourth generation, with Chris taking over in 2008 after returning from Boston to work alongside his father Larry.
“I had a really good relationship with my dad and I wanted to do something in business,” Chris said. “It was more about working with family than it was about being an electrical contractor.”
As leadership at the company has changed, so has the industry. Benjamin Spraragen began by converting gas lights to electric. His son Donald Spraragen, president from 1982 to 1993, helped grow the company’s retail footprint and began the inevitable expansion into the commercial light industry, according to the company’s website. Larry Spraragen helped the company become one of the largest electrical contracting companies in the area — taking on many bigger projects.
Today, Chris can tell you he’s been inside many, if not all, of the buildings that make up the Albany skyline line and many of the buildings in Schenectady.
“We’ve done work from Lake Placid down to Hudson and out to Utica,” Chris said.
Some of the notable projects include the Mohawk Harbor, the Empire Cogen Plant, the AE Smith Building and the Albany Medical Center pavilion.
While Schenectady Hardware’s main business continues to be electrical contracting, the company also operates the SHE lighting showroom in Clifton Park, which offers various lighting options. American Electric Supply Co. located on State Street in Schenectady is also under the Schenectady Hardware umbrella, continuing to pay homage to what started the company — a store that sells electrical parts and materials.
It’s a history that Chris and Brooke, who grew up in Niskayuna, are quite proud of.
“We’re genuinely true stakeholders in the community,” Brooke said.
“To see all the benefits of what we’ve done — we touch a lot of communities in the Capital Region, whether it be our projects or our employees,” Chris added.
The company currently employs 80 people, Chris said.
The long legacy didn’t come without its challenges though, each generation faced their own, including the Great Depression and multiple world wars.
For Chris, his biggest challenge is supply-chain issues.
“The lead times are astronomical and it’s affecting the progression of construction projects,” he said.
He also said they’ve experienced the impact of inflation.
But whatever the challenges were along the way, the Spraragens are happy to keep lighting up the region they’ve called home for so long.
They said, to see the benefits of what they’ve done in the various buildings throughout the region, particularly in the Electric City over the last 100 years, is unbelievable.
“This is an area that really created all the products between Edison and GE,” Chris said. “We were such a big component of that, so it’s interesting that we’re a parallel part of that history.”
The future continues to look bright for the company, too.
“Demand for electrical service is at an all-time high and it’s only going to grow more with the surge of the green initiative,” Chris said.
He said electric work will be needed for things like car charging stations and solar — offering new avenues for the company along the way.
But whatever lies ahead, the Spraragens said none of what the company’s accomplished so far could have been done without its workforce over the years.
“It’s not just about Chris or our grandfathers, our father,” Brooke said. “It’s the employees that have helped us get to 100 years and it’s not just one person and one family. We have generations of families that have worked for us, and I think that’s really special.”
Know of a business The Daily Gazette should feature? Email ‘Biz Beat’ reporter Shenandoah Briere at [email protected]. Follow Shenandoah on Twitter @ByBriere.