Frager's Hardware Destroyed in 4-Alarm Fire

A Community Grieves

Smoke from the Frager's fire filled the sky above 11th St. SE. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Frager's True Value Hardware store, located at 1115 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, was destroyed on June 5, 2013, in a massive blaze. Film of the scene on evening television newscasts showed the exteriors of the hardware store, rental center and paint store seemingly intact. The store's interior was completely gutted.

A Frager's employee, William Howe, stated that the fire started in the receiving department. " No one was injured. Everyone got out safely," he said. However, other reports said that the fire started in an alley between the two buildings. The fire is under investigation.

"Yes, there was a fire at Frager's. Everyone got out OK, and we are grateful for that," tweeted Frager's.

Given the flammable nature of paint, solvents, and propane gas available at Frager's rental and paint stores, it is not surpirsing that the fire lasted from approximately 6:30 to 9:40 p.m.  Huge drifts of black smoke were visible throughout the city and surounding suburbs.

"The air around is not safe.  DC has issued a request that people in the area stay inside. The smoke can cause health problems. Their recommendation is to turn on the AC, close all the windows and stay inside," wrote Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ivan Frishberg in an email to constituents.

Even after the fire was seemingly contained, firefighters stayed at the scene as occasional drifts of smoke indicated debris remained smoldering. Fifty firetrucks with 200 firefighters battled the fire. Two firefighters were injured, though not seriously

Frager's Fire
- Images by Andrew Lightman

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the two fireman who were injured fighting the fire at Frager's. Last reports indicate that they are doing well," tweeted Frager's.

Hundreds of residents and passersby withstood the acrid smoke, standing in shocked silence as Frager's, a true Capitol Hill icon, burned before them.

It is impossible for someone who does not live on Capitol Hill or in nearby DC to understand the magnitude of this loss. Frager's is not just a store, but an entity that defines the community. Frager's is known for an extremely high level of service. You could go to the store searching for an obsure plumbing widget for replacement, and be sure that a knowledgable employee would identify it, and send you home with instructions on how to intall it.

Frager's was a typical weekend stop for many Hill children. Photo: Andrew Lightman

One woman in the crowd described going into Frager's several years ago with her fourth grade son. "We needed the makings for a volcano for his science class. A Frager's employee spent over half an hour helping us find sand, get a piece of glass cut to size, locate the correct piece of copper tubing and the other compnents of the project. We walked out with everything we needed. I'll never forget it," she said.

Frager's: A History of Community Service

Frager's Hardware was opened in the 1920's by Fritz Frager. In 1975, two young college graduates, John Weintraub and Ed Copenhaver (who retired in February 2012), bought the store. As adjoining buildings became available, they expanded their business to include a garden center, rental center and paint store. Over the years they have employed countless people, including many neighbohood teenagers who got their first job at Fragers.

John Weintraub and Ed Copenhaver in Frager's early days. Photo: Courtesy of Frager's.

Because of their long-time service to Capitol Hill, both through their business and through their own personal efforts, Weintraub and Copenhaver were awarded the Capitol Hill Community Achievement Award in 2002 by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.

Frager's staff in front of the store. Photo: Andrew Lightman

“Frager’s Hardware is a DC landmark and an absolute gem to the Capitol Hill community. The owner John Weintraub and former co-owner Ed Coppenhaver have always given back so much to the community.  This fire may present a set-back, but I can say with confidence that this community and our city will rally behind Frager’s and its employees.  My office will be working with the store, neighbors and community organizations to help put together a coordinated response effort.  I want to thank our Firefighters and emergency responders for their efforts to contain and put out the fire," stated Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells at the scene.

Frager's staff pose in front of their famous front counter. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Already neighborhood listserves were buzzing with ideas to help, and Matchbox Restaurant Group had put out a notice to Frager's employees that they could apply for temporary jobs at the nearby restaurant.

The Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which organized relief efforts in the wake of the Eastern Market fire, has established a special fund to provide assistance to Frager's store employees and others who have been impacted. Tax deductible donations can be made here.

The Hill Rag will continue to provide updates on this story as recovery efforts go forward.