Capitol Hill is a warm, friendly place to shop, whatever your politics. For those of us who don’t live or work there, it’s refreshing to find a handful of really nice home stores lining the brick sidewalks of this power center. When spring finally arrives next month (fingers crossed) there’s no better place than Eastern Market to soak up the season, strolling by outdoor vendors and picking up an armload of freshly cut forsythia.
A number of the stores have been around for decades and are neighborhood institutions. One example: the beloved Frager’s Hardware, which had a bad fire last year and is operating temporarily out of a patchwork of small locations.
You will be able to find just about everything you need on the Hill and plenty that you really want, such as a French lacquered tray with a macaroon motif or a hand-embroidered, boldly patterned suzani from Uzbekistan. Come with a shopping list or be spontaneous — you might find the perfect acrylic end table, an antique map of Virginia, a field flower bouquet and cookie cutters in the shape of the District. There’s even a source for blue glass evil-eye amulets, good to have on Capitol Hill — or anywhere else.
Markets and shops have been flourishing in the Barracks Row district on Eighth Street SE for more than 200 years, since the area became home to the Navy Yard, the Marine Corps Barracks and the residence of the Marine Corps commandant. “The charm of shopping up here is being around the history of all the buildings in the neighborhood,” says Martin Smith, executive director of Barracks Row Main Street, which advocates for the popular commercial corridor defined as Eighth Street SE between Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street.
An added bonus: the possibility of Instagrammable moments in case you run into your favorite policy wonk or member of Congress while selecting asparagus at the farm stands. People-watching on the Hill is a daily sport, as is dog-watching, because the locals love bringing their corgis and Labs with them as they do their errands. Pet lovers take note: There are five pet-oriented businesses in the Barracks Row area alone.
When Skyla Freeman, who pens the Sanity Fair design blog, moved to the Hill a few years back, she was intrigued to find the Eastern Market area “brimming with marvelous things.” After fortifying herself with a breakfast picked up on the run, she loves shopping the weekend fleas for Turkish towels, straw baskets, works by local artists and photographers, wooden toys and small pieces of furniture.
Homebody (715 Eighth St. SE) This place bills itself as “outfitters for contemporary living,” and I must say that it delivers as promised, with doormats, loft-size sectionals and a gadget that turns your faucet into a water fountain. The buyers here choose home goods you really want and need, such as cool doormats and electric kettles. The Black+Blum lunchboxes ($24.95) are classy bento-box-like food carriers. The store opened in 2005, and co-owner Erin Mara says buyers keep the local historic rowhouses and urban spaces in mind when they stock the store. They even have something for their Barracks Row neighbors: Marine Corps stone coasters, $20.95 for a set of four.
Forecast (218 Seventh St. SE) For 36 years, Forecast has filled the clothes closets of stylish Washington women. In 2001, owner Debbie Danielson added a home department because, she says, if your table is beautiful, your food doesn’t have to be perfect. I like her style. Her small but chic home selection has an emphasis on European design and eco-friendly features. You’ll find Italian linen table napkins ($48 for a set of four), French lacquered trays ($75) and German felt coasters in candy colors ($6 each).
Hill’s Kitchen (713 D St. SE) The best kitchen shops are cozy places brimming with tempting products and savvy staff, and this place definitely makes the cut. Since 2008, Leah Daniels has been in business in this 19th-century townhouse right outside the Eastern Market Metro station. There are cast-iron frying pans for purists and plating tongs for all the professional chefs working in the neighborhood. One of my favorite items is an eco-friendly Epicurean cutting board in the shape of the Capitol dome ($27.50). Hill’s Kitchen has a wide following for its classes, such as pirogi-making or knife skills.
Woven History and Silk Road (311-315 Seventh St. SE) You can’t pass by these conjoined shops without being intrigued by the front courtyard display of colorful rugs, textiles and accessories from Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal, India and more. Inside, there are 4,000 carpets, both old and new ($90 to $17,000) and 600 pillows ($40 to $460) in a wide assortment of weaves and textures. The stacks of suzanis, the popular color-splashed Uzbek embroidered quilts ($160 to $1,400), are tempting to hunt through. Although the amazing rugs are the stars, there are bohemian goodies to be found: blue glass evil-eye amulets made in Turkey and Gypsy dresses from Afghanistan. Mehmet Yalcin, the proprietor of this Hill landmark, has made it into a cultural center with poetry readings, lectures and concerts.
Eastern Market (225 Seventh St. SE) You never know what you’ll discover at one of the city’s oldest marketplaces: turned wood salad bowls, fresh local strawberries, African masks, vintage jewelry boxes or French tulips. According to manager Barry Margeson, there are 13 merchants indoors that operate every day except Monday. These include Blue Iris Flowers , which will arrange flowers in your own vase as you wait, and Eastern Market Pottery, where you can buy pots or take classes. During the warm months, there can be 100 vendors outside. In the coming weeks, look for the market to burst with cherry blossom branches and eventually the first produce of the season.
On weekends, you’ll find flea markets at Seventh and C streets SE across from the Eastern Market on the old Hine School lot. Saturday Capitol Hill Flea Market is held Saturdays year-round from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are about 50 businesses and lots of international items. (Information at
Frager’s Hardware has been the go-to place for home supplies and knowledgeable staff since 1920. When a fire last June destroyed the store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the owners quickly set up four satellite locations until they rebuild: hardware and rentals at 1323 E St. SE; paint at 1129 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; bulk building and gardening supplies at 1115 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; and seasonal and garden supplies at 306 Seventh St. SE, referred to as the “Pad” at Eastern Market. According to Harold Maupin, a Frager’s manager, one of the most beloved parts of the store, the nuts and bolts room, has reopened as the nuts and bolts “aisle” at 1323 E St. SE. “It’s known for having all the widgets and screws that help life go on,” Maupin says.
The Hill is a destination for of-the-moment restaurants and bistros, or you can pick up something to munch on as you roam through Eastern Market. The Silver Spork (303 Seventh St. SE) is a charming corner hangout with coffee, baked goods and a captivating assortment of pickup goodies, many with an Italian provenance.
Stores set their own hours, but many are closed Mondays. Eastern Market, which is closed on Mondays, has the most vendors on weekends.