June 8, 2013, Washington, DC: It’s a scary sight to see a four-alarm fire breaking out four blocks away. To arrive back in the neighborhood just as dense black smoke begins to rise up ahead. To have the story unfold over the course of a single block — first as people stop in their tracks, one foot off the curb, and crane their necks towards the southeast sky; then as the shopkeeper in Labyrinth game store peers out the doorway with a telephone to her ear, hands the phone to a coworker and races up the street. It’s eerie to walk a few doors farther past Li’l Pub just as a man rushes out and says, “It’s Fragers.” It’s bizarre to realize that no less than a dozen fire trucks have torn by in the course of that surreal walk down the block, and to see the concerned look on the face of neighborhood councilman and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells as he zips by on his bicycle a few minutes later.
But the palpable sense of loss that hangs over my neighborhood in the days following this week’s fire at Fragers is accompanied by astonishing camaraderie and support. Within hours of losing our nearly 100-year old beloved community hardware store, Matchbox Pizza invited Fragers employees who wanted work to show up the following afternoon. Within a day, neighbors had raised upwards of $20,000 dollars. Within two, arrangements were made for Fragers to set up temporary shop beginning this weekend on the vacant concrete slab at Eastern Market. It’s the very space in which Eastern Market itself carried on after its own fire in 2007. The neighborhood has been through this before.
I didn’t yet live on Capitol Hill at the time of the fire at Eastern Market. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for less than three years, and yet I felt an enormous pit in my stomach this week as I saw Fragers burning down the street. I’m fairly certain that’s because Fragers isn’t just any old hardware store and Capitol Hill’s businesses aren’t just any old stores. Whether we’ve lived here a day or for decades, the local business community makes us feel solidly connected to our surroundings. They show us they’re family and they invite us in.
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