Reports are coming in from all over the region from readers moved to action by my column a few weeks ago on locked exit doors at businesses.

Well, when I say "moved to action," I mean moved to pick up the phone or shoot me an e-mail. They haven't yet been moved to grab pitchforks and torches and march upon those retail establishments that insist on keeping one swinging door in its un-swinging state. I'm afraid that nothing short of mob action -- hundreds of us rising up against dry cleaners and coffee shops like villagers storming Castle Frankenstein -- will get the message across.

In my original column, I asked retailers why they bothered to keep one door locked and got various unsatisfactory answers: security, tradition, broken doors. Readers chimed in with their own experiences.

"I was told many years ago that retail stores keep their doors this way to retain heated or cooled air inside," Jon Taylor wrote. "When both doors open at the same time, a rush of air escapes. This is the same reason office buildings with both revolving and regular doors have signs requiring people to use the revolving door."

I'm happy to use a revolving door, if only to pretend I'm in a Marx Brothers movie. But this just strikes me as stingy. If store managers are so concerned about the temperature inside their establishments, let them put on a sweater or raise money for their energy bill by adding a penny to the price of each item.

Another reader called to say that her husband was once told by a clerk that one door was kept locked "because two people might go in and out at the same time."

Two people going in and out at the same time. Surely this ranks right up there with Blockbuster late fees and unsightly nose hair as a scourge upon our planet.

Philippe Heiche checked in from St. Louis (home, he said, of "inexpensive housing, little traffic and bad cuisine") to point out, "Even if they put up a sign that said 'Please use other door' -- which is the least they should do to be considerate if they insist on locking one -- it still is annoying because if people are leaving and entering at the same time, they have to take turns."

That explains the minuets you often see outside a store: "After you, Alphonse." "No, no, after you."

Don Hendrickson of Bethesda said, "I myself have long wondered why businesses with double doors annoyingly unlock only one side." His conclusion? "It's because they consider their customers only half welcome."

Carol Heymann of McLean often uses a wheelchair to get around. Carol said she's lost count of the number of times someone has had to unlock the locked side to allow her chair to fit inside.

"What is even worse is the times that a store employee opened the door to let me in, then locked it again, so we would need to have it unlocked when we left," Carol wrote. "What was he thinking? That my chair would shrink in the store?"

Eric Rice-Johnston of Falls Church is an engineer specializing in fire protection. He said that if a set of doors is marked "Exit," both should be unlocked. He lamented that this isn't always the case and offered some tips.

"At the time of an emergency," Eric said, "the first person to reach the door should not have to stop and think how to open the door."

That is if the door is able to be opened at all. Many years ago, Craig Wagner of Arlington was in the lobby of a Crystal City hotel when the fire alarm went off. He immediately went to the nearest door with an Exit sign on it, only to find it locked. The entire row of glass Exit doors was buttoned up tight.

"I pushed hard in frustration when a manager calmly told me that all those doors were locked, and that I'd have to exit at another door," said Craig. "I pointed out to him that there was a fire alarm, and that all doors should be unlocked, and he told me that it was a false alarm, as though that made it okay."

I told Craig that the next time this happens he should grab a chair or a planter and toss it through the door, just to see if that will provide a means of egress. That would get the message across almost as well as a torch-and-pitchfork parade.


Sometimes it's easy to understand the desire to possess something that doesn't belong to you: A hungry man steals bread. A dishonest woman embezzles from her boss.

But then there are thefts that defy the imagination. Marilyn J. Lynch of Chantilly used to volunteer with the U.S. Capitol Guide Service, showing visitors around the historic building and pointing out eight large historical paintings in the Rotunda. On the floor beneath each painting is a descriptive sign, the decorative border of which is composed of bronze disks, each about the size of a half-dollar, with a star in the center.

"As I grew more familiar with the Rotunda, I began noticing that many of the bronze disks with their stars were missing," Marilyn said. People would pry them off the frames, leaving holes.

Marilyn said she was amazed that anyone would steal something so "small and useless," especially when the gift shop sold cheap souvenirs. But what really baffled her was what people did with the disks after the heist.

"Could anyone possibly return home and proudly show their 'prize' to friends, noting, 'Look what I stole from the U.S. Capitol Rotunda!'?"

As always, I'm at, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 and 202-334-5129.