Each time the lobby doors of the offices at 400 Army Navy Dr. swing open, a crisp breeze flutters the petals of the poinsettias, carnations and mums being sold by Sam Shepherd, 74.
Shepherd, who is blind, is bundled against the morning chill in a plaid flannel shirt, a zippered sweater and a jacket, surrounded by his flowers and the friends who have been buying them every Friday for 10 years.
But at the end of the month, the Army Navy Drive offices will close for about nine months for renovations and Shepherd will be forced to take his flowers and go.
As he talked about the move yesterday, Shepherd's voice occasionally halted with emotion. "I only have a couple of more weeks left," he said. But he delivered cheerful hellos to the employes who stopped to inspect the poinsettias or ask the price of a bunch of mums.
Some of the tenants who have already moved out of the building near the Pentagon want to take Shepherd and his business to the new Crystal City building they now occupy. But the owners of Crystal Gateway 3, at 1215 Jefferson Davis Hwy., say no.
"It was a very nice touch having Mr. Shepherd there," said Ernest Scambos of Anser Inc., a defense research and development firm that moved to Crystal City. "It was a human touch."
Scambos wanted Shepherd to go with the office tenants.
"Most of his customers had moved to a new building, so why couldn't he?" he said.
In response to a petition signed by 200 tenants of Crystal Gateway 3 on behalf of Shepherd, the Charles E. Smith Co., which owns the Crystal Gateway building, said that while the company "shared the concern for Mr. Shepherd's well being," letting him set up shop in the lobby would "set an unacceptable precedent."
David Forcier, property manager for Charles E. Smith, said yesterday that all of the Smith properties have policies that prohibit soliciting in them.
Scambos thinks the company's stance is unreasonable. "Surely the tenants of a building have some say about what human touches there should be in the building."
Those who know Shepherd say his friendly manner and his flowers added warmth to the sometimes sterile atmosphere of a corporate office building.
Valerie Mohn, 25, hasn't worked at 400 Army Navy Dr. for two years, but she stops there to see Shepherd every week on the way from her new job in Springfield to her home in Upper Marlboro.
"He has been there for so long," she said. "People have gotten to know him. And people take it very personally that someone up on high, who doesn't know Sam, says he can't be there."
After 10 years, many of the building's tenants consider Shepherd a close friend.
Al Williams, who drives the Beltway Limo shuttle and takes Shepherd his lunch each Friday, said, "Sam's just one great guy. Everyone loves him. Everyone knows him. Everyone just calls him 'Uncle Sam.' "
Born near Gastonia, N.C., Shepherd did not finish high school and recalls only a succession of "different jobs," including one in a textile factory, before he came to Washington in 1944.
"I came up here during the war, and I wanted to go home, but I couldn't get a job down there," he said.
Shepherd said he was working at the Willard Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- cooking, washing dishes, running the newsstand -- when he lost his sight to glaucoma in the 1960s.
He stayed at home for a while after that, he said, until boredom sent him looking for another job.
"After I lost my sight, I was just laying around the house, nothing to do."
He said the Crystal Gateway building sounds like a good place to set up shop. But as the closing date for 400 Army Navy Dr. draws near, Shepherd has no other plans. "I don't have any place else to go," he said.