Booker T. Carrington is the self-proclaimed dean of the shoeshine professionals in town. With more than half a century of experience, he feels safe in saying he has polished shoes for more years than any of his few remaining rivals in the business.

Carrington, 73, said the changing fashion in men's shoes and the advancing age of the practitioners have greatly reduced the number of old-timers left in the business. But he is not ready to retire, and, five days a week, he can be found at work in the far corner of the Harrington Hotel Barbershop at 11th and E streets NW.

"There aren't {any} young boys going into shoeshine," Carrington said. "They all are looking for the big money, the fast money."

No figures are available on the number of shoeshine people in Washington, because they are not licensed or represented by any union or organization. But it is generally agreed that although shoeshine stands are in a number of prominent buildings, only about 25 people make a living polishing shoes on the street or in shops and hotels in the District.

Irving (Duke) Johnson, 66, who has polished shoes on U Street for 27 years, remembers when more than 25 "bootblacks" were working along the street. Now, he says, he is the only one left.

Last year, Johnson moved his longtime business from 13th and U streets NW to a small lobby shop in the city's new Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW.

"There was a time when we had a lot of competition in this neighborhood," he said, pointing to vacant buildings that once housed shoeshine parlors. "Most of those guys are dead now. I used to have three or four who worked for me, but now there is just my brother."

Ego Brown is an exception in a business dominated by men approaching retirement age. Wearing a tuxedo and a straw boater with his name on the front, Brown, 35, polishes shoes at his one-chair stand in front of an exclusive leather store on Connecticut Avenue NW near Dupont Circle.

"I think of myself as a shoeshine artist," Brown said as he smoothed cordovan polish onto a lawyer's shoes. "This is an image town, and for anyone who is into image, polished shoes are the total look."

Brown, who also has a stand at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel, said he once polished President Reagan's shoes -- but not when Reagan was in them.

"The White House called ahead to see if I was working and then sent two pairs of his shoes over in an aluminum suitcase," he said. "As I recall, they were very good shoes, almost new, but they did need a polish."

The president, like everyone else, was charged $3 per pair.

Brown went into business for himself after working for a decade as a voucher examiner for the Navy Department. He opened his new stand outside Camalier & Buckley Inc. at 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW at the invitation of store manager Bill Johncox.

"Because of the construction site next door, we were concerned about our customers getting their shoes dusty," Johncox said. "So we hit on the idea of making a shoeshine available to our customers."

Brown said the secret to his success is his enthusiasm. "I make it look like fun," he said.

Beyond enthusiasm, though, are the techniques of shoeshine, and several practitioners are willing to part with the tricks of their trade.

Joe Alfred, 50, brother of Duke ". . . For anyone who is into image, polished shoes are the total look."

Shoeshiner Ego Brown

Johnson, said a few drops of water are his secret to a good shine. "You have to build a good base," he said. "Then you add just a little water. My customers keep coming back."

On a recent Friday, the Rev. Ronald Boykin, who has a church in Waldorf and a full-time job with the U.S. Postal Service, stopped by to see Alfred for his weekly shoeshine.

"As a minister, I feel I have to keep my shoes polished," he said as he watched Alfred expertly smooth on three coats of black polish mixed with droplets of water.

Alfred spent about 10 minutes on Boykin's shoes while three other men waited patiently for their turns. The charge for the mirrorlike shine was $2.

"I like what I do," he said as he bent over Boykin's shoes. "Sometimes I get to meet big people like the mayor and the fire chief and Sugar Ray Leonard. They all come here."

Carrington, the self-proclaimed dean of shoeshine, said his key to a good shoeshine is cleaning the shoes first. "I use Top Job and then I begin to polish," he said, adding that it doesn't hurt to have a new joke ready for his customers each day.

Fellow practitioner Brenda Craninger agreed that the personal touch is important. The area manager for Classic Shoe Shine, an East Coast company with headquarters in Atlanta, Craninger has a stand at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

"We mostly hire women because we feel they do a better job and because we think male customers prefer a woman valet," Craninger said. "Most of our employes are students or other people looking for extra income."

Besides training in the company's 23 steps for polishing shoes, Craninger said her employes also have to like working with people.

"I think the job is more about being a psychologist than anything else," she said.