The store's slogan says "Tuesday Morning is not just another day of the week."For hundreds of shoppers in the metropolitan area and thousands across the country, Tuesday Morning Inc. is that rarest of stores: a shopping "experience" perhaps as unique as its ads proclaim, offering steep discounts on merchandise from plastic garbage cans to fine china and crystal to fancy leather luggage.

By almost all retailing standards, Tuesday Morning is an unusual store. For one thing, it is open only four times a year, for just a few weeks at a time. The rest of the year, the 57 stores nationwide are closed and employes are idle.

The Dallas-based chain's goods -- primarily leftovers that manufacturers and other retailers are trying to get rid of -- change so often that shoppers can never be certain what they will find from day to day.

The merchandise is displayed in spartan simplicity -- on metal bookshelves, on aluminum tables or in cardboard boxes.

Yet by discounting its merchandise at prices from 50 to 80 percent below retail, Tuesday Morning is having no trouble luring customers to its stores, including four in the Washington area.

On Nov. 1, for instance, when the chain began its final sale of 1984, the suburban Washington stores were jammed within minutes after opening -- even though the sale had not been advertised in newspapers or on radio or television. The only notice was a simple postcard sent to previous customers who had signed a mailing list.

By 9:30 a.m. -- 90 minutes after the doors opened -- shoppers lined the front of the Fairfax store, waiting to grab empty carts from departing customers. Once inside, they could barely make their ways through the aisles, as they picked eagerly through Christmas decorations, toys and linens piled on tables. Already some of the items had been sold out.

Meanwhile, at the Vienna store -- where the aisles are too narrow to permit shopping carts -- customers, some holding toddlers on their shoulders, stood in long lines to buy china, soap and other items.

There were few complaints about the half-hour wait to check out because the customers were in overall agreement that they were getting good bargains. Besides, one said, it was fun to talk to the other customers: "The company is nice. It makes time go fast."

By the end of the six-week sale, if previous ones are any guide, there will be little merchandise left in the stores. And what remains will be strewn across the floors, making it as difficult to negotiate the aisles as on opening day.

The success of the four Washington-area stores -- the others are in Rockville and Alexandria -- has caught the attention of Tuesday Morning executives back in Dallas.

The company is aggressively seeking new locations here, with the goal of setting up as many as 16 new stores in the metropolitan area over the next three years. Negotiations are now under way for three of those units, one in a shopping mall specializing in discount and close-out goods, company officials said.

The 10-year-old chain also is drawing attention on Wall Street, where a few financial analysts give Tuesday Morning good marks for its record as an unusual retailer.

"The store really looks like a large garage sale," said Fred E. Wintzer Jr. of Shearson Lehman/American Express. However, he said, "it has a fairly good record, even though it has not had a lot of good years back to back."

Last year the company earned $1.8 million, excluding a special gain from a real estate transaction, on sales of $37.3 million.

The $1.8 million profit represented more than a threefold increase over 1982 earnings of $562,000. It also marked the end of a three-year decline in profits that began in 1979, when the company earned $1 million. In 1980, earnings dropped to $695,000, then to $684,000 in 1981 and to $562,000 in 1982.

Tuesday Morning officials attribute the decline to increased advertising expenses and the recession, which cut into retail sales across the country.

Wintzer believes that stores such as Tuesday Morning that focus on selling close-out goods at steep discounts in a no-frills setting have a promising future, especially in the short run.

"Deep discounting is the single fastest-growing retailing concept in the U.S. today," he said.

"The concept started with apparel and is rapidly spreading to virtually all product categories," Wintzer said. "As one industry observer put it, 'If you can convince the consumer that your prices really are significantly lower than everyone else's, it doesn't much matter what you're selling.' "

With so few stores selling the kind of close-out merchandise Tuesday Morning specializes in, the chain has an edge on the market, Wintzer added. However, he said, once the concept catches on there will be many imitators. Tuesday Morning could find itself vying not only for customers but also for a limited amount of quality merchandise.

Tuesday Morning executives hope that being one of the first giftware close-out chains will give the company an edge when it tries to sell some of its stock to the public.

The company had hoped to go public earlier this year, but the market for newly issued stocks dried up. Now company officials say they hope to sell shares, for about $10 to $12 each, sometime next year.

If so, one of the biggest beneficiaries will be Tuesday Morning's founder and chairman, Lloyd L. Ross, who plans to sell 326,000 shares.

Ross originated the Tuesday Morning concept in 1970, shortly after he joined a gift company, where he was assigned to help it merchandise its products.

"One of the very first things I had to do was to cap their inventories, which had grown very large," Ross recalled. However, he said, he discovered "there were very few close-out people in the U.S. capable of buying goods. I decided there was a need for someone in the close-out business to buy and sell quality goods."

Ross further concluded that to win the support of manufacturers and retailers whose leftover goods he wanted to buy, his stores could not be open year-round: "Manufacturers want to protect their chain of distribution. They do not want to see their goods sold at a cheaper price at a store nearby their traditional outlet. Yet, at the same time, they want to get money for their close-out goods."

By opening only four times a year and by promising not to advertise any manufacturer's name, Ross has been able to make some good deals, he said.

The four-times-a-year schedule has an added benefit, noted James M. Goold, vice president for sales. Psychologically, it makes people want to buy, he said. "It adds to a customer's urging. They have to buy on the spot."

Initially, Tuesday Morning didn't have any permanent locations. It would move from spot to spot, opening for a few weeks in recently closed grocery stores, for example, and then would shut down. Now, however, the company has permanent sites, though none are in prime shopping malls.

Employes are hired for each sale, but most are Tuesday Morning repeats. "They are women whose families are now raised," Goold said. "They are looking for something to get involved with, but not full-time."

And the employes love it -- even though they note that the work does have one drawback. "I have a whole attic of Tuesday Morning goods that I keep as gifts, ready to go," said Rose McFarland, manager of the Washington-area outlets. "That's one of the pitfalls of working here."