In between outsized drawings of naked women and flashing lights, the big red window panes outside the pornographic book and film store on the corner at 14th and H Streets NW boasts that it contains the "world's largest selection" of pornography.
Inside is a menagerie of clanging and ringing pinball machines, 25-cent peep shows, cellophane-wrapped magazines featuring lesbians and sadists, and paperbacks with explicit descriptions of sexual acts on most pages.
"I've been here three weeks," said a clerk wearing a plaid shirt.
When asked who owned the store, he said only "the man comes every week with the paycheck. That's all I know about this place.
"I don't know what they do to each other back there," he said, pointing to the booths where the in movies are shown."But out here they just look at the books and play pinball. That's all I know."
Interviews with clerks who run the pornography stores concentrated along 14th Street and at 9th and F Streets NW revealed that the men who work in Washington's major pornography stores have little or no idea who owns the stores they work in and they don't know how the business is run.
"Hey, look. I'm no moralist, people want to come in here and see this," said a young man working in a porno shop near Thomas Circle. 'But it smells like a latrine back there in the movie booths and the people who come in here generally want to buy and get out.
"They aren't asking questions, and I'm not curious. This ain't the kind of work you put your heart and mind into."
The clerks of the stores, which are generally open 18 hours a day - closing only between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. - agree that the work pays well.
"I get over $5 an hour," said one clerk. "I'm satisfied. I know the owner can afford it 'cause I see the markups on these books and believe me the price takes a jump."
At noon yesterday the magazines, which cost $2.50 to $10, were selling at a fast pace. The customers, dressed in down parkas, sports jackets and other casual clothes, were mostly middle-aged men. Young men sorted through the homosexual magazines.
"The people that come in here are the same people I see on the street," said the clerk at a 14th Street store.
"Saturdays, the guys who live out of town come in and look around. They tell their wives they're going to the city to get some tobacco and they stop in here. Late at night we get the marines and the young guys looking to buy something to use on the whores, like that stuff over there," he said, pointing to a wall full of sexual paraphernalia.
On the wall were sexual lubricants, exotic devices from the Far East, and a line of sexual goods marketed under the brand name of "Doc Johnson."
Only one of the clerks said he was surprised at the customers who frequent the stores.
"You know I look at the guys who go over to the black and white section or the guys who like the lesbian and homosexual magazines," he said.
"You see guys in suits and ties, you see young guys, goodlooking. You wonder about them. You got to.
"Sometimes I play games and guess which section they're going to go to when they come in," he laughed. "I'm getting good."
"One man with long graying hair who was collecting quarters from the peep show machines along 14th Street said the "word got around" that a reporter was asking questions the moment the reporter left the first store.
"People get to know each other, we're in the same business," he said, leaning against a glass counter full of sexual devices. "The cops come in and harass us whenever they get into a crusading mood so we stick together some.
"This is just a business like any other business," the man said, shaking his head. "Everyone tries to make it special but it's just a business."