As Hechinger Co. wrapped up its liquidation sales this week, Home Depot Inc. announced plans to replace its longtime but vanquished rival in five locations in the Washington area.

Home Depot intends to purchase the leases of Hechinger stores in Annandale, Columbia, Reston and Fairfax for an undisclosed price, said Jerry Shields, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based retailer. Last month, Home Depot paid $15.6 million for a Hechinger property in Bethesda.

The largest do-it-yourself chain in the Washington area--and the world--Home Depot will buy the four leases from New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Kimco Realty Corp., a real estate investment trust that snapped up 34 Hechinger properties nationwide during the retailer's bankruptcy auctions. It was not immediately clear how much Kimco paid for the leases. Kimco and Hechinger officials did not return telephone calls this week.

Hechinger's departure will leave some urban communities, most notably the District, with fewer home improvement options. And real estate officials have cautioned residents that they should not expect Home Depot and Lowe's Cos. to replace many of the 26 Hechinger stores in the Washington area.

"I don't think that's necessarily an indictment of the markets," said Peter Framson, a local real estate broker and principal with Trammell Crow Co. "The property's price and configuration maybe doesn't work for them."

Of the two large do-it-yourself chains, Home Depot has been more willing to adapt to tight markets, building oddly shaped stores with parking garages. On the other hand, Lowe's opted not bid on Hechinger sites.

"None match our typical prototype," said Lowe's spokeswoman Jule Schreffler.

Hechinger, once one of the most prominent retailers in the Washington area, announced in September that it would give up trying to rescue its business after years of shrinking market share. Since then, the company has been selling everything it owns.

"It was almost heartbreaking to be in the stores," said Angela Ziesler Belt, a District resident and former Hechinger employee who visited two of the retailer's stores in Northern Virginia over the weekend. "There wasn't much in the store at all."

A saddened Belt left the Hechinger store in Springfield, taking with her a store sign that read, "We have the friendliest cashiers in town."

Hechinger Enterprises, a real estate investment firm controlled by the Hechinger and England families, has agreed to pay $2.6 million for leases on stores in Rockville, Tysons Corner, Springfield, Wheaton, Alexandria and Camp Hill, Pa. The firm also will assume the lease on a store it owns on Benning Road in the District.

The Schottenstein family, which owns Value City Department Stores of Ohio, has picked up a Hechinger store in Baileys Crossroads for $2.4 million.