Garfinckel's could be headed into a major expansion outside the Washington area, William C. Detwiler, the company's president said yesterday.

In the midst of Garfinckel's 75th anniversary, Detwiler said he has been told by local developers that the available space for shopping centers in the metropolitan area is dwindling.

"I've got some serious questions about how many other locations of major shopping centers in this area can be found," Detwiler said in an interview.

"We don't anticipate jumping to San Diego. We see more geographic expansion regionally first. We have aggressive growth plans."

Garfinckel's, whose parent company is Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads Inc., is building its first store outside the Washington area, a facility in the Annapolis Mall, which will open this summer.

But, so far, the Washington-based Garfinckel's has not announced plans to enter markets outside this immediate region.

"Our market studies in the areas we are interested in indicate that because of our location in the nation's capital with the tourist trade, and because of our catalogue mailings, some of our results are reasonably pleasantly surprising," Detwiler said.

In addition to the Annapolis store, Garfinckel's also is building a store in the Fair Oak Mall in Fairfax and another smaller one in Georgetown Park, a mall under construction just off the intersection of M St. and Wisconsin Ave., N.W. Garfinckel's now operates seven stores in the metropolitan area.

In addition to the expansion progam, Detwiler said he is enthusiastic about the massive redevelopment efforts under way in the 14th and F Streets NW area, plans that include a street-level mall adjoining Garfinckel's along F Street.

Detwiler said plans for tying Garfinckel's into that project are underway and he also noted that there are preliminary plans to convert the store's eighth floor offices into additional selling space. "It depends, in part, on how downtown comes to life," he said.

Not surprisingly, in light of Garfinckel's success, Detwiler said he is optimistic about the long-term picture of the area's economy. "The only bad news I read is in the newspapers," he said.

But he also noted that the rate of population growth in the area is declining. "I would be cautious about any flat out statement that Washington is recession proff," he said.

Garfinckel's situation here also is compunded by the company's commitment to entering affluent markets.

"We've been invited into certain properties in the last two years, but we declined," he said. "A market that might be entirely satisfactory for Sears and Penneys might not necessarily justify a major Garfinckel's."