After fire, beloved Frager's Hardware rises from ashes, plans to rebuild in D.C.
It’s been a little more than a year since fire destroyed Frager’s Hardware store in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and residents are still coming to terms with the loss.
The original building that housed the store since 1920 may be gone, but highly rated Frager’s itself emerged and once again remains a weekend destination for D.C. residents.
It’s now just a multi-stop destination.
Fighting fire with a fired up community
Thanks to the supportive Capitol Hill community and some creative thinking and determination on the part of owner John Weintraub, what was once one hardware store location is serving the community from four different locations.
Immediately after the fire on June 5, 2013, residents began working on ideas to help. The fire happened on a Wednesday and by Sunday, Frager’s was selling plants (some of the outdoor items at the original location were unharmed.)
“People were coming and buying things they didn’t even need, just to show their support,” Sampson says. “That was truly amazing.”
The outpouring didn’t stop there as the community raised more than a $100,000 in the following months to help employees who lost jobs because of the fire.
“We haven’t been able to hire everyone back,” Sampson says, “but there are a lot of familiar faces working now, which makes everybody happy.”
Neighborhood shops pop up
The charred brick of the original Frager's building remains fenced off along the corner of 11th Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. You can still pick up a few larger items and mulch there, but most of the activity now can be found at its three new neighborhood “pop-up” sites.
- Hardware and equipment rental: Frager's hardware and rental equipment operates out of a building at 1323 E St. SE, across from the side entrance to Safeway
- Paint: The paint shop found a home in a former restaurant space at 1129 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, on the same block as the original location.
- Garden center: The garden center is outdoors at at 306 7th Ave. SE, so unpredictable weather is always a factor. Coincidentally, this site once temporarily housed another neighborhood icon — Eastern Market. A fire damaged the market’s original structure in 2007, and it continued operation for more than a year at the outdoor site.
“That’s really been a challenge for us, having the different locations,” says Kristin Sampson, garden co-manager and a Frager’s spokeswoman.
No one seems to complain, however, that it takes a couple of stops to take care of their hardware shopping needs.
'They have literally everything'
“I actually really like the outdoor concept,” Capitol Hill resident Maggie Myszka says of the open-air lawn and garden center.
She works only a few blocks from the original location, and when she moved to the neighborhood with her husband it was clear that Frager’s was the place to go. “They literally have everything,” she says.
Myszka says she wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support for the beloved hardware store after the fire destroyed the building. “The community went out of their way to help them because over the years they’ve gone out of the way to help the community,” she says.
Still, Sampson understands it can be difficult for shoppers who have to make three stops instead of one.
“We really appreciate everyone’s patience,” she says. “The community has been amazing as we work through this.”
Plans to rebuild
The current multi-site operation is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. “This arrangement is most definitely a multi-year, temporary solution,” Sampson says.
In late September, Frager's announced they will rebuild the hardware store at their original location. Construction is expected to take two years, so in the meantime, they will continue to operate out of their pop-up locations.
The construction project is expected to include not only a new central store for Frager's, but other mixed-use developments as well.
Plans call for keeping the existing brick façade that still stands on Pennsylvania Avenue. So, at least on the outside, the new Frager's will look much like the old.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story originally posted on July 25, 2014.