In the 1930's Rick Levinson's grandfather traveled up and down the Delmarva Peninsula selling carnival supplies to fire companies.
During his travels, he stopped in a hardware store and purchased a gas propane stove.
"He bought it and had it installed in his house on Green Street in Middletown," Levinson, owner and president of Schagrin Gas, said.
Levinson's great-grandfather, Abe Fogle, owned a five and dime store in town and from there, they decided to try to sell gas stoves.
While the location may have moved over the past 80 years, this marked the beginning of Schagrin Gas – a Middletown rooted, family owned business with locations throughout the tri-state area.
As the area's population grew, Levinson's grandfather sold several stoves.
"My grandfather looked to provide propane stoves himself and that was the beginning," Levinson said.
Keeping it in the family
The founder of Schagrin Gas hailed from Middletown, where Levinson employs both of his children, Jill Shields and Andrew Levison.
"They're the fourth generation," he said.
Both of Levinson's children began working for him after they graduated college.
His father married the boss's daughter and started with the company after serving in the air force during World War II.
"He was the rogue salesman," Levinson said. "He'd go out and look for new customers." After the war ended, more appliances were becoming available that used propane.
In 1950, the company built its first bulk tank in Middletown.
Levinson joined his family's business in 1973 after graduated college as the outside sales person.
"I sold heaters, gas stoves, ran sales calls and new hookups," he said.
Decade by decade
Towards the end of the 1970's, they began working with builders who were using propane for home use.
"We were one of the first companies in the area to install underground propane tanks," he said.
In the 1980's, Schagrin Gas began working closely with builders in New Castle County, continuing to grow its business.
Plants have opened in Dover, Wilmington, and Elkton, Md.
In 1987, Schagrin Gas opened a HVAC division and in 1988, a gas appliance store in Hockessin opened.
In 1992, they bought out a small gas company in Westgrove, Pa. and built their first plant with rail siding to bring in propane.
"From there, we serve our Chester County customers," Levinson said.
Schagrin Gas continued to work with builders throughout the 1990's to further business into Pennsylvania and Maryland.
In the later part of the decade, they started selling generators, which has taken off in the past few years, Levinson said.
Page 2 of 2 - In 2004, business extended to southern Delaware with a branch opening in Rehoboth and a plant with rail siding in Georgetown.
In its 80th year, Schagrin Gas now serves 21,000 customers and employs 90 people.
There are also more than 100 fleet vehicles with equipment.
"We're one of the few propane companies with full service for customers," Levinson said. "We can work on any gas appliance at any time."
The company has the capability to service the entire state of Delaware as well as southeast Pennsylvania, northeast Maryland, and parts of the eastern shore.
Despite its growth since 1932, Schagrin Gas is still a family business.
"We act like a family and treat our customers as a part of our family," said Jill Shields, Levinson's daughter.
Levinson added that he is proud to say most of his employees have been working for him for more than 35 years.
"We've been told we're great to work for," he said.