Frederick County sheriff's deputies served summonses yesterday on three executives of the Hess's department store chain, accusing them of violating the county blue law by opening Hess's Frederick store last Sunday. v

The summonses -- the equivalent of a traffic ticket for violating a local ordinance -- will be followed by "stronger action" if the Hess's stores is open next Sunday, warned Ray Fairman, undersheriff of the county.

Hess's executives said they are consulting with their lawyers to determine what step to take next in their attempt to overturn the Frederick County law. w

Frederick County is the only jurisdiction in the Washington-Baltimore area that still restricts Sunday sales.

Hess's executives claim their store on the outskirts of Frederick is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business to competitors in Montgomery and Baltimore counties that are open on Sunday.

In deliberate defiance of the law, the chain opened the Frederick store at noon last Sunday and dressed an executive of the chain in a Santa Claus suit in hopes of provoking a confrontation with local officials.

Sheriff's deputies refused to take the bait and arrest Santa, but instead delivered copies of the county law to store officials on Sunday and returned yesterday with formal notices of violation.

The summonses served yesterday require store manager Scott Ratarski and two other Hess's executives to appear in court to answer the charges. No date for the court hearing has been set, county officials said.

County officials indicated they are not pushing for immediate court action because a challenge to county blue laws is now before the Maryland Court of Appeals. The appeals court could rule as early as next month on a Baltimore County case in which a lower court judge declared the law unconstitutional, permitting Sunday selling.

Hess's sales promotion manager, Fred Bentelspacher, said the Frederick store's Sunday business was "very strong. We did exceptionally well for the first Sunday. We proved the people of Frederick County was to shop on Sunday."

Neither Hess's executives nor sheriff's officers would disclose their next move. Undersheriff Fairman said law officers have "several options short of arresting someone" that could be utilized if the store opens next Sunday.