the possibility of a takeover fight developed yesterday for control of Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhodes Inc., Washington's biggest general-merchandise retailer.
Gamble-Skogmo Inc. and its parent Wickes Companies Inc., owners of the biggest block of Garfinckel stock, disclosed that they may renege on a promise not to acquire more Garfinckel stock.
Gamble owns about 20 percent of Garfinckel Corp. and in a report to the Securities and Exchanges Commission said or its parent might consider either buying more or selling what it owns.
The disclosures by Gamble and Wickes prompted the New York Stock Exchange to halt trading in Garfinckel stock and brought a strongly worded response from Garfinckel executives.
Raising the threat of a lawsuit to stop any action by Gamble or Wickes, Garfinckel maintained that both companies are bound by a 1979 agreement not to buy or sell the shares.
Gamble bought its Garfinckel stock in 1978 from the former owners of the Joseph R. Harris stores, which were acquired by Garfinckels several years ago. After a falling out with Garfinckel management, Harris family members sold their 900,000 shares to Gamble, a Minneapolis retailer specializing in hard goods.
Garfinckel sued Gamble to try to block a threatened takeover bid, then dropped the lawsuit after the two companies reached an accord. Garfinckel officials said that under the agreement signed in 1979, Gamble promised not to buy any more shares of Garfinckel without permission and also agreed that if it decided to sell the shares, it would offer them first to Garfinckel.
After that standoff, Gamble found itself the object of an acquisition move by Wickes, a giant West Coast forest products company and operator of a nationwide chain of home improvement center. Wickes eventually bought control of Gamble, and with it the Garfinckel stock.
Gamble's holdings in Garfinckel Corp. are worth about $25 million at current prices.