Some years back, my family bought carpeting from a deservedly now-defunct store in downtown Washington. The item was substandard. A resulting inquiry to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington -- one made too late -- brought word that the store had been the subject of many consumer complaints.

Having learned a lesson, in arranging a few years later for air conditioning, we called BBB in advance. We learned that the outfit that had offered us supposedly the best deal had drawn a long string of complaints for faulty installations and flawed warranty service. We turned it down and went to a rival who offered a higher price -- and satisfactory results.

So this is a salute to the BBB, a business-supported, self-policing group, which marked its 65th anniversary locally with a luncheon yesterday at the Mayflower. The feature was the presentation of certificates to firms that have been bureau members 50 years or more.

For longtime Washingtonians, accustomed to corporate mergers, absorptions and demises of businesses for family or financial reasons that tend to reduce the individuality of our town, the fact that 28 old-line local businesses were honored is heartening. Here are the honored firms in alphabetical order, with the number of years of bureau membership (with some names changed through the years):

Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Co., 57; American Security Bank, 60; Cedar Hill Memorial Park, 50; Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 63; District Realty Title Insurance Corp., 56; Folger Nolan Fleming Douglas (stock brokerage), 50; Griffith-Consumers Co. (fuel oil), 61; William Hahn & Co. (shoe retailers), 56.

Also, Hecht's, 54; Hub Stores (furniture), 51; McGraw Hill Continuing Education Co., 50; Mayflower Hotel, 53; National Bank of Washington, 60; NS&T Bank, 61; Potomac Electric Power Co., 54; Raleighs, 63; Riggs Bank, 60; Rosendorf-Evans Inc. (furriers), 50; Safeway Stores, 50.

And, into the home stretch, B.F. Saul Co. (real estate), 63; Sears Roebuck, 61; Shannon & Luchs (real estate), 50; Sheraton Washington Hotel, 52; Terminix International (pest control), 52; WRC-TV and its parent, the National Broadcasting Co., 52; Washington Gas Light Co., 61; The Washington Post Co., 62, and Woodward & Lothrop, 63.