Lighting the way

Linda Momeier Hollingsworth and her husband, Bill Hollingsworth, stand inside Momeier Electric on Brigade Street. The company is more than 100 years old and started in 1905 replacing gas lanterns on houses and businesses with electricity. Linda Hollingsworth and her brother, Chris Momeier, recently bought the company.

Bill Hollingsworth and his co-workers at Momeier Electric recently received a chandelier that operated solely by candles.

The owner wanted it converted to electricity, so they fashioned the wiring onto its sprawling upturned arms to bring the chandelier into the 21st century.

Just over a 100 years ago, the founder of the company solved a similar problem.

In 1905, Rudy F. Momeier started converting old gas-fired porch lanterns, called gasoliers, throughout Charleston into the then-newly popular electric-powered lamps.

That’s when Momeier Electric Co. first flickered to life.

Today, although it’s changed hands a few times, the Charleston company is shining bright as the oldest light fixture manufacturer in America. It’s also back in the family fold.

Chris Momeier and his sister, Linda Hollingsworth, the great-great-nephew and great-great-niece of Rudy Momeier, bought the 112-year-old company earlier this year and returned it to the family after 34 years under two owners outside the clan.

Linda’s husband, Bill, who once worked in retail and insurance, manages the operation from the new 2,300-square-foot showroom and repair shop on Brigade Street off Morrison Drive on Charleston’s upper peninsula.

“We see a variety of chandeliers,” Bill Hollingsworth said. “It’s always something different. And because of the city we live in, we get into some really neat houses.”

From broken chandelier arms to electrical malfunctions and from missing crystals to shattered prisms, Hollingsworth said he has seen it all.

Some chandeliers are covered in a film of dirt when they arrive, mostly from years of hanging in houses where the dining room is close to the kitchen and picking up grease and dust.

Some come in from people who purchased them at antique shops and are badly in need of repair and a polish.

Some are just old and tarnished and need to be restored.

“Some you can blow on, and it’s just a cloud of dust,” said David Momeier, son of co-owner Chris Momeier, as he looked over a dingy chandelier in their repair shop.

Interior designers refer business to Momeier Electric when they are redesigning houses. And other lighting fixture businesses in the Lowcountry also send customers to Momeier when people can’t find an odd replacement piece.

“If you are looking for an old part for an old lamp, we probably have it,” said Bill Hollingsworth. “If we can’t match it, we will go to one of our suppliers.”

Bill Hollingsworth, nephew David, and assistant Teresa Hernandez look through their extensive selection of parts, rewire necessary fittings and clean up the chandeliers and lamps before returning them sparkling new to their owners.

“It’s amazing the difference in how they look when they leave here,” Bill Hollingsworth said.

In addition to repairs, they also carry a wide selection of chandeliers for sale in their showroom.

They were even making a chandelier out of deer antlers recently. Leather-like shades will fit over the bulbs.

The lighting repair business wasn’t always on Charleston’s upper peninsula. Over the years, it moved from downtown Charleston to Cosgrove Avenue in North Charleston.

When the Momeier descendants repurchased it, they moved the business back to the peninsula and closer to downtown and island customers.

“Everybody tells us they are so happy to have us back near downtown,” Linda Hollingsworth said. “It was Chris’s dream to have the family own it again.”

Chris Momeier works in the electrical business, and he always wanted the company back in the family.

“It’s a been a dream of mine, and our family is very happy to get it back in our name,” Chris said.

He remembers going into the attics of homes on the Battery with his grandfather, Harry Momeier, to check the belts on 6-foot-wide exhaust fans that had been installed to funnel heat out of the houses before air-conditioning became widespread.

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Today, Chris Momeier is the senior project manager for Greenville-based Eldeco Inc.’s Charleston office, which has handled much of the electrical work for the expansion of Boeing Co.’s massive airplane assembly plant in North Charleston.

The Momeier’s interest in lighting goes all the way back to when Charleston was first plugging into the idea of electricity.

Bringing the city into the modern age more than 100 years ago wasn’t easy.

In 1878, the United States Electric Illuminating Co. of Charleston began South Carolina’s first central station for incandescent lighting. The company started operating in 1881 to light cities through electricity.

But in 1884, the Queen Street power plant went out of business when Charleston City Council chose gas lighting instead of incandescent lighting for the city.

Two years later, the city reversed course and accepted electricity as the wave of the future. It handed out contracts to bring electric lighting to principal streets.

One of those contractors was Rudolph F. Momeier.

In 1905, he started his own business at 100 Church Street in downtown Charleston. The business remained there until 1974, when Chris Momeier’s and Linda Momeier Hollingsworth’s late father, Fred “Fuzzy” Momeier, who took over the business with a partner, moved it briefly to 160 Church St. before transferring it over to 103 Logan St.

In 1978, Fred Momeier sold the business to Barney Tennyson, the business’s accountant. Tennyson, in failing health, held onto the business until 2003, when Ed Scarpa of Sullivan’s Island bought it.

Three years ago, Chris Momeier offered to buy it and return it to family hands, but Scarpa wasn’t interested in selling. When Scarpa died in 2011, his family approached Chris and his sister about buying the company back. They jumped at the chance, and unhappy with the North Charleston site, they moved it closer to their customer base. The leased space is next door to Table Maestro, a Charleston-based national call center that books restaurant reservations.

“We are excited about having the company back in the family,” Linda Hollingsworth said.

She hopes to one day expand it to include electrical contract work, but she said the company will never forget its niche of chandelier and lamp repairs. “We don’t want to forget what we are known for.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or