June 7, 2013

Frager's Hardware, Washington D.C. Icon, Devastated by Fire

  • By: Sarah Heffern

Frager's Hardware, c. 2008. Photo courtesy GarberDC, Flickr.
Frager's Hardware, c. 2008

I still remember when I learned there was more to Frager’s Hardware than its three ground-level store fronts and garden center. I had arrived in search of adjustable window screens and after wandering aimlessly for less than a minute (it was impossible to go longer with a confused expression without being helped at Frager’s), a kind gentleman led me up the stairs to the left of the cash registers into a part of the store I hadn’t known existed, and quickly found me my screens. I can’t honestly say I know where he got them from, however, because I was too busy marveling at my surroundings.

Frager’s was like shopping in my grandmother’s attic.

In 14 years of living on Capitol Hill in D.C., I only once went to Frager’s and left empty-handed. Sometimes my object of desire was in the main store in the narrow, jam-packed aisles. Other times, I made my way back up the stairs, and still others, I was escorted into the basement. I wandered the garden center more times than I can count, and I visited in every season from spring planting to summer grilling to Christmas tree shopping. I hit the paint shop with chips peeled off my bathroom door and left with a perfect match. I haven’t had a key cut anywhere else in years.

To call it a hardware store sells it short. It was an everything store. And an everyone store.

When preservationists talk about sense of place, we all have somewhere in our mind's eye a specific spot that tells a story. For Capitol Hill -- the Capitol Hill where people plant flowers and walk their dogs and have cookouts with their neighbors, not the one that makes the evening news -- Frager’s was that place.

From newbies getting settled to folks established enough to have “house accounts,” every Hill resident wandered into the nearly 100-year-old storefront at some point. (And for most of us, at many, many points.) In a neighborhood full of historic homes, they would invariably have what big-box hardware stores did not: just the right semi-ancient doohickey necessary to start (or finish) a DIY project.

Frager's Hardware after the fire, June 6, 2012. Photo courtesy Sarah M Heffern

Yesterday, our place that had everything was reduced to nothing by a devastating fire.

And, because they are neighbors and community members first, everyone on the Hill is incredibly grateful that no one was killed in the fire, and that the only injuries were not serious. Restaurants from our nearby Main Street have already put out word that they’ll hire displaced staff, a fundraiser is already underway, and our local government has already gotten permission to host a “pop up” Frager’s in the very same location Eastern Market used to recover from its fire in 2007.

Nothing could say more to me about the value of our historic places such as Frager’s, both before and after the fire, than this tweet:

I noticed this morning when I stopped by that, somehow, a large number of the flowers from the garden center seemed to have survived the fire unscathed. The bright blooms next to the devastated building gave me hope that, before long, Frager’s will thrive once again.

Flowers blooming in the garden center after the fire, June 6, 2013. Photo courtesy Sarah M Heffern.

Sarah Heffern embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

Now more than ever, we look to our history for courage, comfort, and inspiration. We've assembled a collection of resources to help our community stay engaged with the places we love.

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