The International Mass Retail Association, a trade group that represents 140 discount retail chains, has moved its 20-member staff to Washington from Manhattan to consolidate its lobbying and administrative activities.

Washington "is a much more amenable city than New York when you represent discount department stores," Richard Hersh, president of the association, said yesterday.

The association's New York offices, at 570 Seventh Ave. in the garment district, cost the group $41 a square foot, compared with $27 a square foot for the offices it took on Pennsylvania Avenue three blocks from the White House, Hersh said.

"In the early days, members would be dropping by the {New York} offices all the time," Hersh said. "As time went on, fewer people came to New York, more businesses moved out. That function of the office ceased."

The association's members -- which include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., K mart Corp. and Sears Roebuck & Co. -- had revenue of $150 billion last year. However, the number of members has decreased in recent years because of mergers, takeovers and the demise of companies such as Zayre Corp.

Ames Department Stores Inc., one of the association's members, last week said it would close 221 of its stores and lay off 17,500 workers as it seeks to reorganize while under protection of federal bankruptcy laws.

The association lobbies on behalf of its members on issues such as the minimum wage, trade, parental leave and employee benefits. It also represents about 600 associate members that supply services or products to discount retailers.