Sue Sullivan and Diane Hill went shopping yesterday at Hecht's store in Parkington for a pair of earrings.
They ended up buying seven pairs of shoes.
"We weren't even looking for shoes, but the sales yesterday were real sales," said Sullivan, a teacher at the National Cathedral School.
"It was total impulse buying -- the shoe prices were all reduced by at least 50 percent," Hill added. Hill, an ITT corporate executive in Washington for the long weekend, bought some Gloria Vanderbilt sling-back shoes marked down from $50 to $12.
George Washington's Birthday (now Presidents' Day), traditionally one of the retail industry's biggest sales days, brought out crowds of shoppers to malls and department stores throughout the area, where some goods were discounted as much as 50 percent.
Local sales, aided by balmy weather, were brisk and better than last year, according to some retailers, although precise financial figures were not available.
"My God, you'd think it was Christmas," said Joan McGuire-Goldberg, marketing director of White Flint Mall. "It's busy, busy, busy here. The parking lots are overflowing. Its hard to say, but I think the sales are better than last year based on the crowds."
"They were practically giving things away," said one Washingtonian, who said she has been shopping the Washington's Birthday sales here for years.
Benetton in Georgetown, a clothing store that specializes in Italian sportswear for men and women, was selling all its winter clothes and some jeans and spring T-shirts from last year's stock for $9.90 a piece.
"It's pretty crazy here," said Jean-Marc Flack, manager of the Georgetown store. "People are tearing through the store kind of like a mob."
Bloomingdale's biggest discounts were in the home furnishings department. "Those are typical sales items for Washington's Birthday," said Anne Stock, a spokeswoman at the White Flint Mall store. Bloomingdale's also offered substantial discounts on videocassette recorders, electronic equipment and handbags, Stock said.
The warm, almost spring-like, 50-degree weather proved irresistible for Georgetown's ice cream lovers, who nibbled at cones while they lingered by store windows, and shoppers said some restaurants were almost as crowded as the streets outside.
"This is one of the first nice days in such a long time," said Goldberg of White Flint. "I think the entire human race has turned out."
Sullivan said a yearning for spring spurred her shopping spree. "The weather definitely has something to do with it," she said. "Everyone's really eager to buy spring clothing and they're ready for winter to be over." She said she found the pastel-colored clothing on display everywhere particularly inspiring.
The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays aren't major shopping days in Washington because people tend to go to the beach rather than to the malls, area salespeople said. "This is the sale that everyone waits for," Goldberg said. "There are good sales on anything that's left over from winter and this is the first sale of the year for spring clothes."
But Robert D. English, another downtown shopper, was not having a particularly good time. He was trying to exchange a television set he had just purchased on Sunday.
"I staggered down the street with it," English said. "It was almost impossible to walk on the streets downtown because mobs of people weren't looking where they were going. They were all looking at the windows." At The Wiz, he said, newspaper ads were strewn all over the floors so that "it looked like the New York Stock Exchange at the end of a trading day."
It was that kind of scene that discouraged Ann Jones, a District resident, from venturing out at all. "I never, ever, go out shopping on GW Day," she said. "It's just uncivilized."
At Woodward & Lothrop's downtown store, Margaret Kirkwood of Capitol Hill had come to buy, but was finding her shopping spree frustrating.
"I came to spend a lot of money and am finding that it's virtually impossible," Kirkwood said as she picked through a pile of comforters in the linens section. "I came to buy three brass lamps. They only had one in the store. The Chevy Chase Woodward and Lothrop store didn't have any . . . . Then I went to Hechts to buy a vacuum cleaner. They didn't have what I wanted. At Woodies, I waited almost 45 minutes to buy a pair of diamond earrings. And now they don't have the comforter I like."
In the Woodward & Lothrop furniture department downtown, Lois Linchuck was encountering the same frustrations. "Nobody wants to take my money," she said. "I'm not looking for a sale. I'm looking for a salesperson." Her husband, Stan, didn't seem particularly bothered. "I'm just here to carry the bags and sit in chairs," he said. "I found a really comfortable chair at Montgomery Mall."
But another Woodies shopper wasn't complaining about the crowds or the service. "I just bought $260 worth of clothes for 60 bucks," she said contentedly.
At Landover Mall, where several new stores have just opened, including a Scandinavian Furniture Gallery branch, the shops were "packed to the gills, according to spokesman Henry Weisenberg. Landover Mall stores offered discounts on appliances and furniture along with close-outs on winter merchandise.
"It really looks like Christmas-time outside," Weisenberg said. "It's difficult to find parking. People are walking all over the place -- and it's been this way all weekend." The lines at the checkout booths in Sears were 15 people long, he said.
"The roads are packed with cars and people are definitely out and shopping," Weisenberg added. "As a retailer, this makes my heart jump for joy."