Happy 100th Birthday, Frager’s!

Iconic Capitol Hill Hardware Store Celebrates Community

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Owners Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman at the reopening of Frager’s Hardware in August 2019. Photo: Andrew Lightman

A Capitol Hill icon is about to celebrate its 100th birthday. Frager’s Hardware (1115 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) will mark their centenary with a month-long celebration this September, including contests, giveaways and continued efforts to support the community organizations that make Capitol Hill unique.

Assistant Manager Charlie Hawkins, who started 2 months before the 2013 fire, and Carey Caldwell, who has been with Frager’s more than ten years.

“It takes a special business and community for operations to continue for 100 years and we don’t take that lightly,” said Frager’s Hardware co-owner Gina Schaefer. “We’re really proud of our opportunity to steward Frager’s into its next century.”

Like A Family
Coincidentally, Frager’s was founded the year after Washington DC emerged from the Influenza epidemic of 1918. Fitz Frager opened a small hardware store in the southeast unit of the building at 1105 Pennsylvania Ave SE. A year later, he built the store at 1115 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, expanding into neighboring buildings in the 1930s.

Fritz Frager passed his business on to his two sons George and Jules, who managed it into their 70s, when they put it up for sale. Two University of Virginia fraternity buddies, Ed Copenhaver and John Weintraub, bought it for $67,500 in 1975. They upgraded the store, bought more surrounding real estate and added a garden center, paint center and rental service.

Store Manager Aisha Bryant.

“We’re like a family,” then-General Manager Nick Kaplanis told Hardware Connection magazine in an article published in the May 2013 issue. “People come here as a gathering place; they come here to talk with each other. We have a very loyal following.”

Then on June 5, 2013, tragedy struck. The store caught fire, and the four-alarm blaze destroyed the interior entirely, burning for more than three hours. It could have been the end for the business, but Frager’s refused to quit.

“The fire happened on a Wednesday and we were set up doing business on Sunday at the pad across from Eastern Market where [then] Mayor Vincent Gray helped cut the ribbon,” Weintraub said in 2014. “It was because of the great staff that we were able to go forward.”

After a massive fire destroyed Frager’s in 2013, it was rebuilt behind the original façade and is topped by a four-story condominium complex. Photo: Liz O’Gorek

Less than a year after the fire, the hardware and rental store opened in the blue building at 1323 E St. SE, where it would remain until Frager’s could rebuild.

Home for the 100th Anniversary
In 2017, Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman purchased Frager’s Hardware, leading it home to the original site on Pennsylvania Avenue two years later. The couple operate A Few Cool Hardware Stores (AFCHS), 13 stores that are part of the Ace Hardware Cooperative.

Now home again, Frager’s Hardware is still going strong: since Schaefer and Friedman took over, they’ve exchanged more than 10,114 Sodastream cartridges (about 1.8 million 12-ounce cans); mixed nearly 30,000 cans of Benjamin Moore paint and sold more than 800 Frager’s Hardware t-shirts.

Store Manager Aisha Bryant said one thing hasn’t changed since the days when Kaplanis managed Frager’s: it is still a family, for employees and for customers. “Frager’s reminds me of the importance of neighborhood hardware stores,” she said, adding that Frager’s feels different from other neighborhood hardware stores. “Many residents of Capitol Hill view Frager’s as an extension of their family,” she said, “and hold a sense of pride for the institution.”

The new 8,500 square foot store has two floors, a boutique garden shop, Foliage by Frager’s, down the street, and a large garden center. But the original exterior walls still stand, and the “Frager’s Hardware” sign was saved to adorn the building.

Frager Rama Photo Contest
Longtime residents will remember the annual “Frager Rama” photo contest started in 2003. Customers wore their Frager’s t-shirts in places all over the world and sent their photos in for prizes.

Frager’s is reviving contest as part of the 100th Anniversary festivities. Submit a photo of yourself wearing your Frager’s t-shirt in an interesting place and you could win a $100 gift certificate, as well as a limited-edition Frager’s Hardware 100th Anniversary t-shirt.

All month, you can also win one of 50 prize packages including a cheese package from fellow co-op Cabot Creamery, Frager’s gift card and limited-edition centenary tote bag designed by local DC maker “The Neighborgoods.”.Weekly in-store giveaways will include custom-made products, including Frager’s Hardware tote bags, chocolate-covered Oreos from Capital Candy Jar, chocolate bars, buttons and stickers.

Throughout September, Frager’s will showcase neighboring small businesses who have contributed so much to the vibrancy of our Capitol Hill neighborhood. They’ll also continue fundraisers for local nonprofits that have improved the quality of life for our neighbors in need.

‘Because of the Neighbors We Serve’
Frager’s continues to serve customers throughout the COVID-19 crisis, offering cleaning supplies, hand-sanitizer and masks together with plumbing fixtures, birthday party decorations, lawn and garden supplies and a full array of rental equipment at the Hello Rental desk downstairs.

Schaefer said that the business survives because of the strength of the community it serves. “I’ve always believed that in order for a town, city, or community to be strong, there must be a foundation of business support and a strong “shop local” mentality,” she said. “The vibrancy of Capitol Hill embodies this description. Frager’s next 100 years should be as exciting as the last because of the neighbors we serve.”

Learn more about Frager’s Hardware by visiting acehardwaredc.com/pages/fragers-hardware

Learn more about the 100th Anniversary celebrations by visiting www.facebook.com/FragersDC or see celebration details at https://acehardwaredc.com/pages/fragers100th

To enter to win Cabot Creamery prize package at https://www.cabotcheese.coop/fragers-hardware