Lunchtime at Fortuna's shoe repair on Connecticut and L streets NW, and the traffic is brisk. Machines are humming, cobblers are hopping and customers are standing in line two and three deep.

Business at the shop, which opened last April, is way above projections. At Fortuna's White Flint Mall branch, volume is up 60 percent compared with last year; at Springfield Mall, it's up 30 percent.

"We haven't had an experience like this since the 1950s, and that was one of the biggest times ever for the shoe-repair business," co-owner Terry Fortuna said, raising her voice over the hum of the nailing and stitching machines. "We're just doing better and better."

More and more of Fortuna's customers -- citing their anxiety about layoffs and bankruptcies -- are fixing old shoes rather than buying new ones, boosting Terry Fortuna's fortunes in the process.

She is not alone. As the local economy's slowdown leads consumers to shift their financial habits, businesses from shoe repair to discount groceries to layoff counseling are profiting.

Business is up about 15 percent at the Washington office of Drake Beam Morin Inc., a firm whose business is euphemistically described as "outplacement" -- helping companies downsize by counseling and retraining the newly terminated.

"We've expanded our space, we've expanded our facilities and we've expanded our staff," said Vice President Bill Hotes. "As long as the economy continues to be sluggish, our business is going to continue to grow."

Companies specializing in awards for employees are churning out more of them because awards are cheaper than raises, and labor lawyers are working overtime advising companies on the legal ins and outs of laying off employees.

"Every time there is a recessionary economy, we get more calls from clients who are interested in making layoffs," said Zachary Fasman, a labor lawyer in the Washington office of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. "For our office and our firm, there has not been any lack of work."

Some beneficiaries of the slump do not necessarily relish their good fortune. Robert Ward of A&A Cardinal Eviction Service in Waldorf said his 20 percent increase in business this year may or may not be economy-related, but either way, he is not proud.

"It is a rough business. When I first got into it, it was rough. Even today, there are evictions that bother me," he said, citing evictions of families with children or of elderly tenants. "We are doing more houses in classier neighborhoods. For some of these people, there is no doubt it is the first time they have been evicted."

Counter-cyclical businesses are part of the reason that the local economy, though it is going through a stinging readjustment, is far from depression. The unemployment rate, now 3.5 percent, is one of the lowest in the nation for a major metropolitan area. Job growth has slowed markedly, but it has not turned negative as it has in other cities.

Some companies in the region, those that sell nationwide or are in "hot" industries, are doing well for reasons unrelated to the slowdown. But businesses that repair, restore, provide necessities or save you money all appear to be benefiting from a citizenry that is learning to watch its pennies.

Few people skimp on health care when they are sick, for instance, but many look for ways to make it cheaper. Membership in the low-cost health maintenance organizations operated by Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc. of Rockville increased enough to send profits soaring 238 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 1989. In the next quarter, profits rose 89 percent. Some of that growth was due to individuals, and some was due to hard-pressed employers pushing their benefit packages toward HMOs.

"If you look at the escalation of health-care costs ... employers are getting tired of watching their bills go up 20 to 50 percent a year. With managed care {in an HMO}, it's 10 to 15 percent," said Charles Johnson, Mid-Atlantic executive vice president.

Said Kensington accountant Marvin B. Ribner: "If you want a key to the whole thing, I think it is need. If your tooth is not aching, you're not going to go to the dentist. If you can see, you won't go to your eye doctor. But when you need insurance, you're going to buy it."

Based on that theory, area residents apparently can't do without tax assistance (some law firms are looking for tax attorneys to hire) or beer. Betty Buck of Buck Distributing Co. in Upper Marlboro said beer sales are up a bit for the year. "It is as if people are saying they will do away with their second house or their vacation, but they are not changing their day-to-day lifestyle," she said.

Actually, they are, in a host of minor ways. More people are shopping at discount grocery stores such as Shoppers Food Warehouse, according to executives of the 23-store chain. President Kenneth Herman declined to say by how much traffic had risen, but he said customers are buying a different mix of groceries -- less swordfish, more haddock and flounder. Even so, he said, they are spending as much as ever.

The cash registers also are ringing at another low-price grocery chain, Murry's Steaks and Other Fine Foods, which has about 30 stores in the area. Because all the meat sold is frozen and the stores do not stock perishable items, costs are lower, prices are lower -- and volume is up. "As the economy is getting tougher, people are looking to save money and we can save them money," Murry's President Ira Mendelson said.

Area residents also appear to be willing to wear those old clothes one season longer. At Millie's Tailoring and Dry Cleaning in Arlington, clients are bringing in more repair work than they have since the last economic downturn nine years ago.

Customers are keeping the shop's five alterations experts busy with requests to reline their Harris tweed jackets ($54) or shorten their skirts, according to owner William Dillon.

"For some reason, the economy is going to hell but hems are still going up," contradicting normal recessionary fashion trends, Dillon said.

Unfortunately for Dillon, customers who are willing to pay for alterations also are saving money by cutting back on dry cleaning. He thinks they're wearing their clothes a bit longer before bringing them in.

"People are proud. They don't want to admit they are down, but you can tell," he said. "I have people who for the last 10 or 15 years have worn custom-made shirts, and now I see them coming in in Hathaways."

Other industries report similar offsetting effects. At G Street Fabrics in Rockville, sales of home-decorating materials are up, but sales of silk and other expensive fabrics are down.

At Courtesy Jeep-Eagle, also in Rockville, the decline in auto sales is nearly made up by the sharp increase in repairs and service. President Peter Zourdos said people are bringing their cars in more -- repairs are up 10 percent to 15 percent -- and those cars are older.

An 18-month-old Capitol Heights motor oil distributor, benefiting from the increase in auto service, expects $2 million in sales this year. A company of the same age that sells pagers has 50,000 units now operating because they are cheaper than cellular phones.

"Real estate agents love us," said account executive Tamara H. Mooradian of First Page in Glen Burnie. "When the market is soft, they want to get every call. Every little thing helps."