The homemade counter piled deep with sunglasses, souvenir caps and neatly folded T-shirts may well be George Lucas' last stand.
Like the three dozen other vendors who do business at the foot of the U.S. Capitol, Lucas, a wiry 67-year-old with a sun-baked face, may have to clear out soon. He and the others vow to fight to stay in an area they say is essential to their livelihood.
A bill making its way through Congress would extend the Capitol grounds to include the sidewalks that run along each side of the Capitol's reflecting pool. Currently, 18 vendors set up shop daily on each of the two sidewalks, but the pending legislation would change all that.
Two years ago, when Congress extended the Capitol grounds -- on which vending is illegal -- it mistakenly neglected to include the 13-foot-wide sidewalks that were right under its nose, said Nancy Vitali, a staff member of a House subcommittee on public buildings and grounds.
So the sidewalks remained District of Columbia property, and thus a safe zone for vending.
It clearly was the intent of the law for the vendors to leave," said Vitali. "They found a loophole, that's all."
The new bill, sponsored by Reps. John G. Fary (D-Ill.) and Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.), passed the House by voice vote Monday and now moves to the Senate. It is designed to correct the oversight and would rid the Capitol area of the vendors.
Some on Capitol Hill say they believe the vendors' carts are unsightly, creating a carnival-like atmosphere in front of one of the world's most important buildings.
Elliott Carroll, executive assistant to Architect of the Capitol George M. White, said the vendors' presence is "not appropriate . . . . The vendors should be elsewhere, not in the foreground of the Capitol."
Vitali said White, who could not be reached for comment, was the committee's only witness during recent hearings on the matter. She said more extensive hearings were held two years ago when the original bill was being written.
After the initial expansion of the Capitol grounds, which went into effect last year, vendors simply moved from the affected areas onto the nearby sidewalks, Vitali said. Some were given citations and told to leave, but then Lucas, with the help of an attorney, found the loophole.
"I don't know why they would do this," said Mike Fox, who with his family operates a food and drink stand at the southwest end of the reflecting pool. "The people need us."
Lucas, who started selling Depression ice cream near the Capitol steps in 1934, said there have been vendors in the area for as long as there have been pigeons. It's the way things are and should remain, he said, and besides, there are fewer and fewer lucrative spots left for a vendor to go.
"If they try to move us again, we intend to fight this time," Lucas said. He said he plans to raise money from vendors, hire an attorney and lobby Congress for at least a compromise. One he favors is having the Congress permit the current vendors to keep their spots for life, then allow no others.
"If I have to go, what can I do?" asked Stafford (Cookie) Lowry, who said he has been selling hot dogs and cold drinks near the Capitol for 31 years. "This is my living. I have two young kids at home to support.
"What's wrong with a little free enterprise in front of the Capitol?"