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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
In 1936, Harold A. Harris opened Harris Welding, and for over 80 years Harris Industrial Gases at 8475 Auburn Blvd. in Citrus Heights has remained in the family, owned and operated through four generations – never moved, never sold.
The store is still located where the original Harris Welding Shop stood. Their success is attributed to “the tradition of providing personal service for companies both large and small,” said company president Kathleen Harris.
The location has changed a bit since 1936. Auburn Boulevard’s original two-lane road is long gone. So too is the drive-in movie theater which used to be located behind the shop where Kathleen Harris used to watch the latest Hollywood releases during hot Citrus Heights summers as a young girl in the back of her Chevy pickup truck.
“Mainly we’re proud that my grandfather Harold passed the business to his son, Kent, who, via my mother, has passed it down to the rest of the family, with five grandchildren who are now also stockholders in the corporation,” Harris told The Sentinel.
Harris Industrial Gases is the largest independent provider of industrial gases and welding supplies in the Sacramento Valley and surrounding areas. The company carries top welding supplies and equipment, and supplies many industrial, medical and specialty gases to hundreds of businesses all over Northern California.
The company reported over $10 million in overall sales last year, Harris said.
Kathleen Harris is the only one of Kent’s four children who still works in the business. She’s been at the helm of daily operations since 1978, although she acknowledges that the rest of the family are all owners and directors.
“I’m president, my mom is ‘chairman of the board,’ and my son Aaron Appino is the Chief Operating Officer.”
Harris Industrial Gases began when Harold Harris and Elmer Denman established the fabrication and repair shop as Harris Welding. Although squarely in the Auburn Boulevard business district, the location was so remote back then that the address printed on their calendars was “one mile south of Roseville on U.S. 40.”
Harold ran the company until 1954, when he sold it to his son Kent and daughter-in-law Norma, who eventually incorporated with Kent at the helm until his untimely passing in 1974. Norma then took over, with daughter Kathleen, now corporate president, working alongside.
“I started coming in to the shop in 1960 when I was 10 years old,” Harris said. “I grew up in the business,”
The company has two locations, its Citrus Heights office and a second at 578 Lincoln Way in Auburn. The company’s Auburn location provided much of the welding rod and welding equipment for the planned $415 million Auburn Dam and canal system approved in 1963 by the U.S. Congress.
For over fifty years, the company’s primary business was welding and fabricating.
In the early days of the business, Harris remembers a cow was accepted as payment in full for a welding job. As the need for welding services diminished, the company switched to retail sales and became Harris Welding Supply, and finally Harris Industrial Gases, in 1995.
The original building on Auburn Boulevard in Citrus Heights now serves as corporate headquarters, housing the administrative offices, accounting department, warehouse, fleet center, and an impressive on-site compressed gas fill plant.
Today, the company finds itself in a situation where expansion of its Citrus Heights headquarters is limited, Harris explains. The company is surrounded by residential and mixed commercial development along Auburn Boulevard, and a company like Harris Industrial Gases with its commercial gas filling operations isn’t a preferred fit. None of the gases sold by the company to its commercial clients are especially hazardous, but that doesn’t change public perception, she adds.
“It’s also increasingly difficult to do business in the State of California due to the regulatory environment here,” Harris said.
Two additional Harris Industrial Gases locations are doing business in the state of Nevada, one, in Nevada City and the second in McCarran continue to thrive. The McCarran site serves Tesla’s Nevada automotive assembly plant with its complete line of welding product and gases, Harris said.
The company continues to supply a wide range of commercial customers including, industrial welding gases for construction, manufacturing, and the auto body industries. These include rare and special gases/mixes for custom applications, CO2, Nitrogen and specialty beverage gas mixes for food-service industries, cryogenic liquids for clinical/lab work and medical applications are also sold. The company also supplies florists and party suppliers with helium, and nitrous oxide and medical oxygen for dentists, doctors and clinics.
The company headquarter’s store in Citrus Heights sells a complete line of welding supplies and safety equipment including goggles, gloves and helmets; tools, abrasives and chipping hammers; safety glasses and face protection; protective leather clothing, fire resistant cloth and welding curtains and brass fitting and gas apparatus.
A complete line of welding equipment and power sources from Miller, Thermal Dynamics and Victor is also sold and a full line of welding consumables is available for sale to professionals and weekend hobbyists. Products include electrodes, abrasives, MIG, TIG and plasma components, gas welding rod, brass, stainless, aluminum and special alloys.
“We have just about everything that a professional or an amateur welder could ever need,” Harris said. We’re keeping my grandfather’s tradition of friendly service and knowing our customers by first name alive and well. Honestly, we plan on being around another 80 years.”
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