By Chris Jensen
Frager’s Hardware, one of the newest members of The Hardware Connection Century Club, held a month-long celebration in September to mark its 100th anniversary. It featured giveaways, custom-made products for staff and customers, daily posts on social media to lift up neighboring small businesses and fundraisers to support local non-profits.
Frager’s Hardware is the second-oldest hardware store operating in Washington, D.C., behind W.S. Jenks & Son, which was founded in 1866.
Frank Frager was a Russian Jewish immigrant who came to Ellis Island, sold ice cream cones out of a cart, worked at a lumberyard and became such a skilled cabinet-maker that he crafted many of the display cases in the original Smithsonian Museum, according to a Washington Post article. In 1920, he borrowed $5,000 and opened a hardware store that would become a Capitol Hill institution.
Frager’s is now owned by Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman of A Few Cool Hardware Stores, who bought the historic business in 2017, four years after a devastating fire had made the store’s future look bleak.
While the COVID-19 pandemic dashed some of their plans to commemorate the store’s centennial anniversary, Frager’s found a way to celebrate its long and distinguished history while reaching out in new ways to serve the community.
“We had a lovely time promoting the store and giving a shout-out to local non-profits. Throughout the month we featured 12 new businesses and 12 local non-profits to allow them to tell their stories. That’s a reflection of how community-minded Frager’s has been for the past 100 years,” says Courtney Belew, senior manager marketing and community engagement.
“So many of those companies and groups are suffering during the pandemic, so we were happy to help out. This was a way for our employees and customers to connect together to lift up the community spirit,” says Belew.
All Frager’s employees wore 100-year masks throughout the month as well as 100-year shirts and buttons. “We sold a lot of 100-year t-shirts, which are available online and in-store,” Belew says.
Customers were encouraged to share stories about Frager’s, and some recalled fond shopping memories from 20 years ago. “There was a couple who had gotten married in our garden center five years ago, so we gave them a five-year anniversary gift,” Belew points out.
The fire in 2013, which was visible for miles, reinforced how Frager’s had evolved into an integral part of the community. The Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF) provided more than $130,00 to keep Frager’s staff employed and help the store relocate. When Frager’s reopened at the original location six years later, it offered a 20 percent discount to customers who donated $5 or more to CHCF.
Belew says, “It’s been really cool to revisit the store’s long history. There is something about a local hardware store that makes it the fabric of a community. Frager’s was never a neat, clean, tidy store, but customers have always had a deep connection to it.”
Frager’s Hardware Timeline:
1920: Fritz “Frank” Frager, a Russian Jewish immigrant, opens Frager’s Hardware at 1105 Penn Ave SE. He is later joined in the business by sons Julius and George.
1923: Frager’s relocates to a newly constructed building at 1115 Penn Ave SE.
1931: Frank Frager joins 24 other hardware retailers in Washington to create the Consolidated Hardware Stores of Washington, who would do joint advertising for two years.
1935: Frager expands into the building next door at 1113 Penn Ave SE.
1950s: Frager’s opens a second location at 2301 Penn Ave SE, which closes in 1965.
1958: Frank Frager dies of a heart attack in front of the store.
1968: Julius Frager is shot in the neck during a robbery in the store but survives.
1975: John Weintraub and Ed Copenhaver purchase the store from Julius and George Frager for $67,500.
2003: Frager’s expands by moving paint shop into the building next door.
2006: President George H. W. Bush is photographed stopping to buy dog treats.
2013: A fire guts the store on June 5. Four days later, Frager’s reopens in a pop-up shop at Eastern Market.
2013: In December, hardware and rental move into an old auto body shop two blocks from the old location.
2017: Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman buy Frager’s Hardware.
2019: On May 3, Frager’s returns to its original store front. A grand reopening is held in August.
2020: Frager’s Hardware is voted “best hardware store” in Washington City Paper’s Best of DC issue. The store holds a month-long 100th anniversary celebration in September.
The Hardware Connection is a digital magazine targeted to independent hardware/home improvement retailers. It is the only industry magazine designed and distributed solely in electronic format and currently reaches over 60,000 people in the two-step channel.
The Hardware Connection publishes four Newsletters each year in addition to eight magazine issues.
To sign up yourself or additional staff to a free subscription to receive The Hardware Connection magazine and newsletter in electronic format, please click here.