Frager’s Hardware: Our Everything Store

I wrote this post for my work blog, PreservationNation, but as it’s probably the most personal thing I’ve ever written for work, it seemed appropriate to cross-post it here. I did, however, give it a less newsy title.

Frager's Hardware: Our Everything Store
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: Our Everything Store

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.

Frager's Hardware: Our Everything Store


Note: The first picture in the post is courtesy GarberDC on Flickr, courtesy of a CreativeCommons license. Also, because he used to work for me, I assumed he wouldn’t be mad I used his photo.

3 thoughts on “Frager’s Hardware: Our Everything Store

  1. Mom June 7, 2013 / 11:55 am

    So sad, indeed. We all know first hand how devastating fire (and water) can be. I like the MacArthur slogan best: “Out of adversity comes opportunity”. Here’s hoping the “new” Frager’s is realized quickly and retains its former charm. It so reminded me of Kovarik Hardware on Binghamton’s Clinton Street — a bit of everything and the kind gentlemen always know where everything is and how to guide the DIYers 🙂

  2. Eileen June 7, 2013 / 12:00 pm

    I feel like I’m much more sensitive to fire since our experience, but there has been a whole lot of it in the last week. First came a horrible fire in Houston last week that killed 4 firefighters and then the Frager’s fire. It takes me back and takes my breath away.
    Sarah please keep us posted on Frager’s progress. It makes me happy to see the community rally so fast to employ workers, give the store a new temporary home, etc. I pray they will have a good outcome with the insurance and with as little hassle as possible!

  3. maryann June 9, 2013 / 5:23 pm

    So sorry about Frager’s. Reminds me that Garrett’s on Vestal Ave is long gone. But like your Mom we’ve migrated to Kovarik’s – a great place, where if you can manage a few stairs up and a few stairs down, you can find anything. And better yet, someone will help you find it!

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