The gas shortage and the general recessionary economy were blamed for drops in second quarter profits of two of Washington's largest retailers, Woodward & Lothrop and Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads, Inc.

It was the second straight quarter of decreased profits for Woodward & Lothrop and the third such quarter of the past four.

"We remain cautious relative to the balance of the year," said Woodies President Edwin K. Hoffmann. "Our fall plans call for tightly controlled expenses and inventory levels. Consumer buying power has been eroded by inflation and rising fuel costs, and accordingly, we anticipate diminishing retail purchases."

"If sales improve significantly during the fall period we will be in a position to maintain our usual high level of profitability for the balance of the year," Hoffmann said.

Sales at the department store giant for the quarter were up 9.4 percent from $58.5 million last year to $63.9 million.Net earnings were $928,000 (38 cents a share) compared to $2.0 million (84 cents) last year.

For the first six months sales were $125.3 million, a 10.1 percent increase over $113.8 million for the comparable period last year. Net earnings decreased 36.8 percent from $3.1 million ($1.35) to $2.1 million $84 cents).

"Sales increases for the second quarter and the six months have not been sufficient to cover increased operating costs," Hoffmann said. "Sales increased at a lower rate than inflation. In particular the gasoline shortage in the Washington area affected sales during the second quarter."

"Our business for August has been very good," said Robert Mulligan, the company's executive vice president. "Gas lines and the gas shortage haven't continued and fall sales have been good."

Mulligan said that "downtown business has been very good. I don't know if it's from the gas shortage or more and more riders on Metro." Woodies' downtown store is located at the opening of the subway's Metro Center stations.

Mulligan said he expects profits to pick up during the third quarter.

Garfinkel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads, Inc. reported sales for the quarter of $88.6 million, up from $84.2 million last year. Net income for the quarter was $834,000 (18 cents) compared with $903,000 (19 cents) for last year.

Net sales for the six months ending Aug. 4 were $175.2 million compared with $161.6 million for the same period last year. Net income for the first half was $3.2 million (70 cents) compared with $2.1 million (54 cents) for last year.

Included in the 1979 first half net income figures is an operating loss and a non-recurring gain from the sale of the discontinued Joseph R. Harris division, which was sold April 21 to Petrie Stores Corp. for about $4 million.

"The company's performance was impacted in the second quarter by several factors including the recessionary environment which began to affect us and the rest of the retailing industry last May," said David R. Walters, company chairman and president. "Sales of some divisions were also affected by gasoline shortages."

"Sales in July and August accelerated, and if this pace continues, we anticipate being in a satisfactory inventory position by the end of September," Waters said. "However, we are still maintaining a cautious outlook for the remainder of the year, given existing economic conditions."