Gus Haris' delicatessen has a space problem. He has room for his customers, but his collection of Americana is overflowing the place.
Haris, owner of the 70-seat Woodside Deli in Montgomery Hills, is best known for the legal brouhaha he caused in Montgomery County by charging lower prices to women on "ladies nights." It sparked a sex discrimination charge and pushed him into court.
But he is probably second-best known, at least in the Montgomery Hills section of Silver Spring, for his accumulation of historic posters, magazine covers, documents, pictures and other such items. There's so much -- 550 items at last count -- that he can't hang it all at once. It's enough "to fill three or four restaurants," he said.
He keeps a short rotation list of items he plans to display next in his restaurant, a hangout on that stretch of Georgia Avenue for nearly 40 years.
"I'll take stuff down, put stuff up," said Haris, 42. "A customer comes in, he'll always see something new . . . . Let me walk you through the walls."
There are old Life magazine covers from the 1940s, and bundles of Ronald Reagan movie advertisements and a more recent letter from the president thanking Haris for the gift of a Woodside Deli T-shirt.
There are old post cards of Washington, old photographs of Silver Spring, piles of sheet music, an edition of the "Federal Intelligencer & Baltimore Daily Gazette" dated Sept. 14, 1795, a John Dillinger "Wanted" poster from Towson, Md., and an autographed picture of the 1937 world champion Redskins.
Milt Levy, 78, a longtime Redskins fan, said he was sitting by the old team picture to have his breakfast "because I remember when all these guys were playing."
The menu makes it clear that Haris is no casual collector of junk. "All wall adornments and antiques are owned by the boss, who happens to be a nostalgia freak of the first order," it declares.
"Many of the items have been obtained from our guests. If you have something that would look good on our walls and are willing to part with it in a trade, or donation (the latter preferred), the boss will be glad to talk to you."
Last week, a customer who is a retired engineer lent him a picture of a Pennsylvania Railroad train he had taken on its final run. It's hanging now near another donated picture of rural mail carrier Russell Person in a 1918 Model T Ford.
Person still comes in the store, Haris said. "He always sits at one of these two tables so he's by his picture, and says, 'There I am.' "
On the opposite wall hangs a picture of the 1953 cheerleading squad at the old Montgomery Hills Junior High School. "One of these ladies came in here" and spotted the photograph, he said. "She was shocked. She came back with her husband and daughter to show them."
There is little logic to his groupings. Pictures are placed where the frames fit. He wanted to show a visitor a photograph of Lincoln at Antietam, but couldn't find it.
"I have to go searching myself sometimes," he said, "Where's my Lincoln?" Finally, he spied it, above sheet music of the French national anthem and below a signed letter from Richard M. Nixon.
The only section with a unified theme is in the back, where pinups adorn the walls. It's not state-of-the-art pornography, of course, but old Esquire drawings, Marilyn Monroe pinups and authentic French post cards.
Haris calls this "the adult center."
Amid the soft-core porn of a bygone era is his piece de resistance, an 1827 bank draft signed by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was then the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a Marylander at that.
Haris, a veteran of submarine duty and karate instruction, also has collected submarine tie clips, which are affixed to a sweater hanging in his office, where nine karate trophies also are displayed.
A native of the Bronx, Haris moved here after World War II when his father first bought the deli. He attended Woodland Elementary School (where he was a classmate of actor Sylvester Stallone), Northwood High School and the University of Maryland.
Haris was a history major headed for law school when his father died in 1973. He intended to sell the delicatessen, "but after a week or two as my own boss, I never got out of here."
His wife, Margaret Anne, was a customer at the delicatessen. They've been married 12 years and live in Colesville, in a big house on Randolph Road with their respective collections. She likes the 1950s, especially commercial calendars of that decade, and cherubs -- paintings and statues.
Haris achieved a degree of notoriety several years ago when his ladies night discounts were found by Montgomery County to constitute sex discrimination. When the first notice of a violation, a citation from the county Human Relations Commission, arrived in the mail, it was dated April 1. He thought it was a joke.
But it evolved into a series of costly legal skirmishes. After he lost the first battle of ladies night, his "skirt and gown" night, offering a similar discount to anyone so garbed regardless of sex, was ruled a subterfuge.
As a result of the ladies night controversy, The Washington Post Metro section dubbed him one of its 10 "Losers" of 1984 in an end-of-the-year wrap-up. He's so proud of that he has the paper taped to a gold-framed mirror. He also keeps a bulletin board near the door with recent news clippings about his case.
The controversy cost him $15,000 in legal fees, he said, but brought him more business. "I more than broke even," he said. "It put us on the map."
His new gimmick is a "Ghostbusters"-style T-shirt that shows a Victorian woman with a parasol in a circle with a diagonal red line. It says, "No ladies night, but still a discriminating place to dine."
"A lot of people ask me how they can help pay my legal bills," Haris said. "I say, 'Buy a T-shirt.' " So far, he says, he's sold about 100.
Anyone who wears one on a Tuesday between 4 and 10 p.m. from June through December gets half price off on entrees.
"Is it legal?" a sign asks. "I don't know. Quick, someone call the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission!"