Transcripts

Frager's Owners Regroup After Devastating Fire

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:10
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're saying goodbye to spring and hello to sweat. In other words, summer. A season many Washingtonians can describe rather vividly.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:00:20
Muggy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:00:21
Sunny.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

00:00:21
Moist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:00:22
Sticky.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4

00:00:22
Sleep-inducing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:00:23
Suffocating.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5

00:00:24
Swampy.

SHEIR

00:00:24
Those were people in D.C.'s Farragut Square, sharing their thoughts as we launch full steam ahead into summer.

SHEIR

00:00:40
Now, here at "Metro Connection," the arrival of summer means it's time for annual "Feeling the Heat" show, an hour-long sojourn with stories about all kinds of heat. We'll head to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where scientists are hot to trot about a brand new mission that'll explore a mysterious region of the sun.

MR. ALEX YOUNG

00:00:58
We think that the energy that's going through, the heat and everything's that's flowing through the solar atmosphere, that that's really where all the action is happening. And that's what IRIS is going to be looking at.

SHEIR

00:01:08
And we'll visit the furnace at the University of Maryland's art department, where students dial up the heat to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the pursuit of beauty.

MR. STEVE JONES

00:01:17
The pour means that we will be melting the metal in a furnace and then using a crane and some other tools to lift the molten metal out of the furnace and pour them into the molds.

SHEIR

00:01:30
Plus, we'll meet a D.C. student who's been feeling a different sort of heat, as she copes with her mother's drug addiction.

MS. JENNIFER HIGHTOWER

00:01:37
School was like my way of escaping everything. I figured what my mother's doing doesn't have anything to do with my school work, so I'm not going to, like, use that as an excuse.

SHEIR

00:01:51
But, before we get to all of that, earlier this month on the 5th of June, a 93-year-old Washington institution was feeling the heat in a most devastating way. That night, for reasons still unknown, Frager's Hardware, on 11th and Pennsylvania Southeast, caught fire. And longtime owner John Weintraub, or J.W., as he's often called, was there. As he and I stand outside the boarded-up store, he recalls what happened.

MR. JOHN WEINTRAUB

00:02:19
Well, it was a normal day at Frager's. And our main cashier, Melinda, and I think a customer tipped her off, they smelled smoke. And where is it coming from? Well, our side door out to 11th Street. So I opened the door and just saw this total blackness, smoke. I could tell that it was serious. I didn't see any fire, but I did grab a fire extinguisher and I tried to move into the space, but it was so pitch black, and the heat got to be too much. So then I ran around, took the fire extinguisher -- meanwhile, several staffers were following me with fire extinguishers. And so then we ran around the side to 11th street and then I saw the flames. In the median strip, I just watched it burn.

SHEIR

00:03:01
And as you did so, what was going through your mind, your heart?

WEINTRAUB

00:03:04
I was crying almost, from 6:30 to about 12:30. We had to talk to the fire marshal. And then it was still burning and I think it probably went on all night.

SHEIR

00:03:22
It took more than 200 firefighters to bring the blaze under control. And when I peek inside the store's garden side, with manager's Kristen Sampson and Ricky Silverstein.

MS. KRISTIN SAMPSON

00:03:32
Do you want to take a peek?

SHEIR

00:03:33
Sure.

SAMPSON

00:03:33
All right. Can we open the door and --

SHEIR

00:03:35
I can see why.

MR. RICKY SILVERSTEIN

00:03:37
This is…

SHEIR

00:03:39
Oh, my. Wow.

SILVERSTEIN

00:03:41
This is all tin over here. That's the garden. That's fertilizers and mosquito repellents and plant foods. To your left is garden tools. Sharing that aisle is the tool section. Next aisle over is more tools, drill bits, drills, saws.

SHEIR

00:04:05
Ricky has a picture-perfect memory of all those narrow, crammed aisles with their super-high ceilings.

SILVERSTEIN

00:04:10
And then way in the back of the store is the key counter. That's our famous key counter.

SHEIR

00:04:16
But you'll notice when he speaks about the store he uses the present tense, because, as Kristin Sampson puts it, even though the insides are, yeah, pretty much a wreck at this point…

SAMPSON

00:04:25
The roof and the second floor collapsed, and you can see the sunlight streaming through on these tangled, charred remnants of what it was.

SHEIR

00:04:34
…Frager's had such a vibrant, community energy to it…

SAMPSON

00:04:37
You know, people who would be like, you know, I'm having a really bad day so I thought I'd come and see you all, and, like, come to the hardware store. That's huge.

SHEIR

00:04:45
…that you can't help but imagine it coming alive again.

SAMPSON

00:04:48
When you picture it with all the life, all the activity, all the relationships and the stuff, you want to get that back.

SHEIR

00:04:58
And little by little, Frager's is getting that back.

SHEIR

00:05:18
We're on 7th Street Southeast, across from Eastern Market, at the Frager's Pop-up, which the city helped open shortly after the June 5th fire. In addition to selling special commemorative t-shirts…

SHEIR

00:05:28
All right. So the front of the shirt says, "Frager's on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., established 1920." On the back it says, "Not on our watch, 6/5/2013."

SHEIR

00:05:39
…the temporary outdoor store is peddling a variety of garden goods, including the very same plants it used to carry at 11th and Pennsylvania, from annuals to perennials to all kinds of herbs and vegetables.

SHEIR

00:05:49
So all of these plants survived the fire?

MR. MATTHEW LOVELACE

00:05:52
All of these plants survived the fire. And fortunately, it was a blessing that the fire didn't get totally out of control.

SHEIR

00:05:58
Matthew Lovelace is a manager at the Pop-up garden store. He started working at Frager's eight years ago, when he was fresh out of high school. And he says immediately after the fire, he and his 60-some co-workers seemed to be first and foremost on the community's mind.

LOVELACE

00:06:12
I've had an outpour of help. People who are offering, you know, positions at certain places, so apparently I've impacted a lot of people.

SHEIR

00:06:21
Owner John Weintraub says he's keeping as many staff members on payroll as possible. And to help with that effort, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation has begun channeling donations. Nicky Cymrot is the Foundation's president.

MS. NICKY CYMROT

00:06:33
Capitol Hill Community Foundation basically responds to lots of needs in the community as they arise, but on that evening, I was getting emails from people saying, I've just made a $500 contribution to the Frager's situation; I hope you all are going to do something.

SHEIR

00:06:47
So, they did. The foundation quickly established a special fund to pool all the contributions coming in for Frager's.

CYMROT

00:06:54
Immediately, overnight and over the next several days, contributions were just coming, ding ding ding, on my telephone. I put it so I could hear them.

SHEIR

00:07:02
As of earlier this week, the Foundation had collected $110,000, and not just from Capitol Hill, but from all over the country. Because the way garden manager Matthew Lovelace sees it, when you shop at Frager's, you're family.

LOVELACE

00:07:16
Eighty percent of the people that stop by, we know who they are. And by us building these relationships, we're touching everyone. And by this happening, no one could ever see Frager's leave.

SHEIR

00:07:29
What are your hopes for the future?

LOVELACE

00:07:31
That Frager's rebuilds bigger and better and stronger than ever.

SHEIR

00:07:38
And John Weintraub feels the same way. For now, he and his team are operating on a more or less impromptu basis, using temporary offices, the temporary garden shop.

WEINTRAUB

00:07:47
And we're close to maybe getting some warehouse space, temporary warehouse space nearby. Then we'll have a little place to store stuff and keep stuff.

SHEIR

00:07:56
But in the long run, he says, he hopes to rebuild right here, on this corner where, for nearly a century, faithful customers have flocked for everything from seeds and screwdrivers to pet supplies and popcorn carts.

WEINTRAUB

00:08:09
And that's one reason why, you know, I hate to give up. People look at me and say, "Hey, why don't you walk away?" But it's hard to walk away when you've got a functioning, good staff and such loyal customers. You're just lacking one thing, and that's a building to sell it out of. But it looks like it's going to be a long, hard road.

SHEIR

00:08:38
To learn more about fundraising efforts for Frager's, including the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's fund and various benefits being held around town, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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