Frager's, a Capitol Hill institution, was destroyed by a fire in June.
The legendary “Nuts and Bolts Room” at the old Frager’s has temporarily been transformed into the Nuts and Bolts Aisle at 1323 E Street SE.
Six months after a devastating fire destroyed Frager’s and brought tears to owner John Weintraub’s eyes, he’s finding reasons to smile.
He’s leased the pad at Eastern Market for his pop-up Lawn and Garden operation. He’s rented a former auto-body shop at 1323 E Street SE to house Frager’s Hardware and Rental. The temporary Frager’s Paint Store is going strong at 1129 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. And soon, in an empty lot at 1230 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Weintraub says there will be a warehouse that will consolidate all the various pop-ups, until the original location is rebuilt.
And that’s a dream come true for Ricky Silverstein, one of the managers at Frager’s. When asked if he’s making any New Year's resolutions, he says, “Yes. One roof!”
Ricky says the past few months have been quite the challenge.
“Multiple locations, different topography, a building with heat and air conditioning,” he says. “And then the staff that has to work in the elements come over and see us [in] 72 degrees, [and] we feel bad about that!”
Plus, says Frager’s staffer Kristen Sampson, there continues to be a whole lot of flux among the locations, in terms of which place offers what.
“It ebbs and flows,” she says. “So it’ll kind of stabilize for a little while and then there’ll be another change. The most recent change is that they key machine moved from the pad to 1323 E Street. So if you do want keys cut, it’s 1323 E Street!”
Speaking of 1323 E Street, when Kristen, Ricky and I swing by on a recent Friday afternoon, the former auto-body shop is bustling. Over the din of cash registers ringing and customers chatting, you can hear a constant whirring, grinding noise. Kristen says it’s their technician cutting glass and screen.
“We actually do a pretty good glass and screen repair business,” she says. “Not a lot of places will cut glass and screen to custom fit sizes.”
What’s more, says Brenda Robinson, a local property manager and longtime Frager’s customer, not a lot of places will sell the items that Frager’s does.
“Certain types of parts for the water heaters, electrical parts, lots of radiator keys. It’s just a lot of things that you can find here,” she says.
And if you can’t find it here, she says, they’ll be happy to order it for you. That’s yet another reason she’s thrilled to have Frager’s back after June’s fire.
“I guess accidents happen, but it really affected a lot of people,” she says. “Not only in the area; people come from all around to get things that they need.”
And that’s a big part of what keeps John Weintraub going, after the ups and downs of the past six months. He had to let about 20 employees go. He’s had to rebuild a ton of lost files and data. Not to mention all the different leases he’s been juggling with his pop-up stores. Most are for one or two years, “but some of the leases,” he says, “the people are planning to develop the property, so the future’s unknown on those!”
And that’s especially true for the pad at Eastern Market, which is part of the proposed Hine Junior High School development project.
“There is a court case pending, and there’s no time frame on that,” he says. “When that’s resolved then they will begin construction in that whole area. So we’ll have to leave the pad.
“They’ll give us notice. Part of the deal is we’ve agreed to be able to leave within two weeks. That’s been a source of anxiety,” he admits.
But what’s been a source of joy, he says, is the generous support he and his staff have been receiving from customers and organizations.
“We generally have a Christmas party every year,” he says, “and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation raised an awful lot of money, so we’re going to be able to defray some of the costs.”
Not only that, he says, but he might even be able to hand out some holiday bonuses, making this the most wonderful time of a pretty tough year.
[Music: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Derric Johnson's Vocal Orchestra from Christmas in Velvet - Vol. 1 and 2]
Frager's Temporary Retail Boards