Giant Food Inc. DESCRIPTION: Regional supermarket chain with 130 stores (many with pharmacies) and 33 Pants Corral jeans stores. Giant plans two more store openings in the next two weeks (AMEX, P, B, OTC). FOUNDED: 1936. TOP EXECUTIVE: Israel Cohen, chairman, president and chief executive officer.

When Giant Food launched a food-price war a year ago and chief rival Safeway responded with its own full-court press on prices, it looked like Washington's all-pro supermarket chain had finally fallen on its face, racking up a $2.24 million deficit in the first half of the year. But Izzy Cohen said he was more interested in building long-term market share than short-term profits. By the end of the year, it appeared he was getting both. Strong second-half earnings all but wiped out the losses; Giant finished the year with earnings down only 8 percent from the 1980 record with sales up 13 1/2 percent to $1.7 billion. Neither inflation nor new store openings could account for that much extra business, leaving no doubt that Giant had increased its share of the prospering Washington market. Chain Store Age picked Giant as the supermarket of the year, and Progressive Grocer ranked Giant 14th largest in the nation. Giant is extending its computerized checkout system so its computers can order directly from the computers of grocery manufacturers. A new fish processing plant, a new ice cream plant and a high-rise, frozen-food warehouse are among Giant's recent investments. To counter local competition, Giant has built a couple of limited-assortment stores and persuaded its unions to grant operating concessions, but that is not the chain's main thrust. Watch for a free-standing Giant Pharmacy and a Gourmet Giant as this year's experiments in maximizing market share.

Kay Corp. DESCRIPTION: International trading company involved in a wide variety of goods and commodities. Through Balfour, Maclaine International Ltd., the company imports raw agricultural commodities, including coffee, rubber, food products and industrial fasteners. It also exports finished goods, certain chemicals and commodities produced in the United States, and acts as a commodity broker. Through Kay Jewelers Inc., Kay Corp. operates jewelry stores under the names of Kay Jewelers; Kay/DeRoy Jewelers, and Black, Starr & Frost Ltd., as well as leased jewelry operations in major department stores. Based in Alexandria (AMEX). FOUNDED: 1912. TOP EXECUTIVE: Anthonie C. Van Ekris, chairman.

Kay Corp. management described the past year as an "extremely difficult" one for the company. The profitability of Kay Jewelers Inc. was hit by "disappointing sales and high interest costs." As a result, the company says it will "virtually halt" its planned expansion program. The international trading company experienced "significant growth" during the year, and emphasis will be placed for the next two years on continuing development of the commodity brokerage operation of Balfour, Maclaine Inc.

A public offering of limited partnership interests in a fund utilizing the company's computer-based commodity fund is planned for the second quarter of this year. In addition, two PVO operations were sold for $13 million during 1981, the Consumer Products "Saffola" brand division and Saffola Seeds Ltd., which is the South African subsidiary of SeedTec International Inc.

Peoples Drug Store Inc. DESCRIPTION: Regional drug store chain with more than 500 stores operating in 13 central Atlantic and Midwest states and the District of Columbia under the names of Peoples, Haag, Lane, Reed, Dynamic Discount and Health Mart (NYSE, P). FOUNDED: 1905. TOP EXECUTIVES: Adrian C. Israel, chairman; Sheldon W. Fantle, president.

The drug business was buzzing for Peoples last year as management coupled expansion plans with a new marketing approach that has delivered increased sales and earnings for the fifth consecutive year.

Peoples' major coup last year was the acquisition of 79 Haag stores and the purchase of a midwestern distribution center near the Indianapolis airport. This, accompanied by the purchase of 13 drug stores from Marsh Supermarkets of Yorktown, Ind., and 21 Drug Fair of Iowa stores, helps consolidate Peoples' position in the Midwest as a mover in the retail end of the health and beauty aides industry. Also, the firm began to increase store sales of Peoples-brand products. These House brands, along with generic drugs, provide the company with a higher margin.

Plans include consolidation of 1981 acquisitions as well as deployment of a computerized inventory system that will eventually link all stores and distribution centers with the corporate headquarters in Alexandria.

Woodward & Lothrop Inc. DESCRIPTION: As Washington's largest local general merchandise retailer, Woodward & Lothrop ranks second to Sears, Roebuck & Co. in nonfood sales in the area with its 15 department stores and warehouse sales center (OTC). FOUNDED: 1880. TOP EXECUTIVES: Edwin K. Hoffman, chairman; David P. Mullen, president and chief operating officer.

The retail business is not great these days, so the most important developments for Woodward & Lothrop this year will be in its real estate operations. Woodies wants to build a hotel behind its Chevy Chase store and is proceeding with plans to redevelop the "North Block" opposite its downtown flagship. Opening its first Baltimore area store in the White Marsh center last year helped increase sales and opened up the heart of the Maryland market to Woodies, but the new stores are costly and "had a negative effect on earnings," the company says. "High inventory shortages"--the merchants' euphemism for shoplifting and employe theft--were also a problem for Washington's biggest store. Sales for 1981 increased 8.6 percent, but factoring in inflation and the new store in Maryland, volume just about kept pace with the previous year. In the year ahead, says Hoffman, "We intend to continue to exercise strict control over expenses and inventories, while aggressively maximizing sales."

Dart Drug Corp. DESCRIPTION: Regional retail chain with 66 Dart Drug stores, 86 Crown Book units nationwide, 35 Trak Auto stores and four new Total Plus health care products stores in the District, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware (OTC). FOUNDED: 1960. TOP EXECUTIVES: Herbert H. Haft, president, chairman, and chief executive officer; Charles D. Shipe, executive vice president, treasurer and chief operating officer.

Dart Drug Corp. was the come-back chain of 1981 among Washington merchants, and all three of its retail chains appear to be on a roll. Dart Chairman Herbert Haft doesn't talk much about his operations, but it's hard to miss what's happening. Rebounding from an off year with earnings of only $1.4 million in 1980, Dart produced a $4.2 million profit in 1981, up 300 percent. After relentlessly pruning the unprofitable units from the drug store string (Catonsville, Md., was the latest to close), Dart is bouncing back in the local market, while its book and auto supply stores are growing outside this area.

With Drug Fair faltering since it was taken over by out-of-towners last year, the Dart Drug stores find competition has abated. The Crown Books subsidiary, launched by son Robert Haft, has grown into a nationwide joint venture with the California-based Thrifty chain. Crown is the biggest discount book seller in the country, and imitators are trying to copy the formula, right down to the advertising campaign. Expect the same kind of bicoastal blitz for the Trak Auto discount parts chain, which is already causing as much consternation among conventional auto supply stores as Crown did in the book business.

Hechinger Co. DESCRIPTION: Hechinger bills itself as "the world's most unusual lumber yard." The company operates a chain of home centers that specialize in do-it-yourself products (OTC). FOUNDED: 1911. TOP EXECUTIVES: John W. Hechinger, president; Richard England, chairman.

Hechinger store No. 32 will open soon in Baltimore, to be followed later in the year by new units in Columbia and the Philadelphia area. This will be Hechinger's third store in the Philadelphia market, where the chain is aiming for a 15-unit cluster. The three-to-five-stores-a-year pace will continue as Hechinger enlarges its mid-Atlantic niche as one of the country's most successful home improvement center companies. Though home centers usually prosper in both good and bad housing markets, Hechinger's sales growth seems to have slowed because of the recession's impact on retail sales.

W. Bell & Co. DESCRIPTION: A Rockville catalogue-showroom retailer of jewelry and fine gifts with 15 showrooms in the Washington area, Baltimore, Houston and Chicago (OTC). FOUNDED: 1950. TOP EXECUTIVE: Walter Bell, president and chairman.

Three new stores are planned by W. Bell this year, continuing the expansion drive that took the Rockville catalogue-showroom company into the Chicago market last year. The new stores will be in existing markets; Bell isn't saying where. The cost of expanding into Chicago produced flat profits, but Bell's emphasis continues to be on growth. The company declared a 50 percent stock dividend paid Dec. 11, boosting the float in Bell stock to 1.9 million shares in an effort to expand interest in the shares. Sales passed the $100 million mark last year. With the chain growing from 15 units to 18 this year, Bell may be able to repeat last year's 13 percent sales increase despite the weak economy.

Schwartz Brothers DESCRIPTION: Wholesale distributor of prerecorded music and accessories. Also operates 24 Harmony Hut retail outlets, from Northern Virginia to Charlottesville (OTC). FOUNDED: 1946. TOP EXECUTIVES: Stuart Schwartz, chairman; James Schwartz, president.

Schwartz Brothers rebounded in 1981 from its modest loss in 1980 to post a 16 1/2 percent increase over last year's net sales figure. The year was one of rapid growth for the company as they opened six new Harmony Hut retail Music stores, expanded wharehouse facilities and opened a new corporate headquarters in Lanham. SBI Video, a distributor of home video cassettes and related video accessories has also expanded, acquiring distribution rights from several major motion picture suppliers.

Further expansion is part of management's long-term prospectus. Two Harmony Hut store openings are planned for 1982, and the company plans to remodel and expand existing stores while further diversifying its product line.