The recession has battered the earnings of W. Bell & Co., causing the Rockville-based chain of catalogue showrooms to report a loss for its fiscal fourth quarter and 40 percent lower profits for the full year. Meanwhile, Solon Automated Services posted record earnings for the first nine months of its fiscal year.

The 17 W. Bell stores earned $1.4 million (76 cents a share) for the year ended June 26, down from $2.4 million ($1.29) in the same period a year ago.

Chairman Walter Bell attributed the drop in earnings to a "lower-than-expected increase in sales due to the recession, a reduction in gross margin due to increased sales promotions and higher interst expenses."

Sales for the year increased to $134.6 million from $107.4 million, aided by the opening of two new showrooms in Chicago, but the gain fell short of Bell's goal.

For the final quarter of the fiscal year, Bell reported a loss of $72,800 compared with a profit of $400,000 (21 cents) a year earlier. Sales increased to $28.5 million from $25.4 million.

Solon, one of the nation's biggest coin-laundry operators, said earnings for the nine months ended June 30 climbed to $6.1 million ($1.98 a share) from $5.1 million ($1.66) in the same period a year ago. Revenues increased by 14 percent to $73.7 million from $64.8 million.

For its latest quarter, Solon's coin boxes and other income sources took in $24.2 million, an 11 percent increase over the $21.8 million in revenues a year earlier. Profits climbed to $1.7 million (54 cents) from $1.5 million (49 cents).