Every city needs a junkyard and an auction house, according to Benjamin E. Weschler, whose family has provided an auction house for Washington since 1890.

Weschler, 65, and six members of his family run Adam A. Weschler and Son auction house at 905 E St. NW, the last such business downtown since Sloan's moved from a few doors away to Montgomery County in July.

Weschler says there is a great need for auctions in the city; much of the firm's business results from estate sales. Appraisals represent a large portion of the work as well.

"My joy in life is telling someone what he has," he said, adding that he does about 1,000 appraisals a year. "I have been in every fine home in D.C. I love to see how people live."

As for the uniqueness of auction houses, Weschler said, "You see things here that you can't see in museums because {those items are} not quite old enough." He said the business has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Oriental rugs, for instance, "you couldn't give away" 20 years ago, but now they are a big seller at the auctions, Weschler said.

The firm's vice president, William Weschler Jr., Benjamin Weschler's nephew, said most of the business entails sales of furniture and artwork, but it also auctions stocks and real estate. The firm also has sold livestock, automobiles, fur coats and vintage clothing. "We're a general auction house, so we don't just take the cream of the crop," William Weschler said.

The Weschlers and their customers say that bargains are to be had at the auctions. Chairman Benjamin Weschler, with the business for 47 years, said, "Buy furniture here and you save one-third, and one-fourth on silver."

Collector Elizabeth Shapiro said two alligator bags she bought for $75 each at Weschler's would have cost her $800 elsewhere.

Anthony Calomiris, a District resident who owns a Florida antique shop, said that three years after he purchased a Bombay chest for $300 from Weschler's, he discovered it had secret drawers containing a gold piece valued at $600 and a gold bracelet valued at $200.

Weschler's has three types of sales: estate, gallery and general household auctions on Tuesdays. It conducts four major estate auctions annually, usually in September, December, February and May. The nationally advertised catalogue auctions include furniture, art, jewelry, silver, oriental rugs and books. More than half the items sell for less than $1,000, while exceptional items bring hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Items are sold at Weschler's on a commission basis. "What we are doing is acting as agents between the buyer and the seller," William Weschler said.

In the face of an ever-changing downtown, Weschler's plans to be around awhile.

One of the more noticeable changes downtown, Benjamin Weschler said, is that more people are finding their way into the shop -- government and private-industry workers now have offices in the area. "There's a different show whenever they come in . . . like a circus, we set the sale up, people buy, the stuff is all gone and then we set up for the next sale the next day."

Downtown, Benjamin Weschler said, is the place for the Weschlers as long as conditions are favorable. "If we didn't own the building, we couldn't be in the auction business {in downtown Washington} . . . . The only thing that would chase us out of D.C. is D.C. taxes," Weschler said.