Shopping malls, hoping to make up for sales lost during the Presidents' Day weekend snowstorm, reopened yesterday and are counting on major retailers such as Macy's to resume interrupted sales that could bring in shoppers.

Several malls reported brisk foot traffic, as consumers with cabin fever and reliable vehicles managed to break out of unplowed streets to shop. Officials at Tyson's Corner and Potomac Mills malls said all of their stores were open by 11 a.m. yesterday after a two-day hiatus.

"Right now, the traffic at the mall and surrounding the mall is at optimum level," said Jackie Young, director of marketing at Potomac Mills.

Macy's sale, which is intended to clear the shelves of unsold merchandise and prepare for spring fashions, will resume Thursday through Sunday. "I don't remember having to do anything like this before," said Ronnie Taffet, a spokeswoman for Macy's East.

Many retailers depend on the Presidents' Day holiday, the first clearance-driven shopping event since post-Christmas sales, to boost their revenue in the ho-hum shopping weeks of February. The Christmas season was lackluster, and retailers are worried about consumer spending if war erupts in Iraq.

George Whalin, president and chief executive of Retail Management Consultants, said retailers figure they have a captive audience during Presidents' Day, which is why they heavily promote it.

"It's not like the Fourth of July, when people go on picnics and find other things to do," Whalin said. "What are you going to do on Presidents' Day except shop?"

When consumers are forced to retrench, restaurants are usually the first to feel it, said Gregory Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates, a real estate research firm based in Alexandria.

"If restaurants are snowed out on Sunday and Monday, that's lost business they can never make up," Leisch said.

Next hardest hit, he said, are the department stores, other mall-based shops, and big-box discounters. They lose the impulse-driven buyers who will not return when they don't have the leisure of a three-day weekend.

Still, this weekend's weather does not rank as the worst setback for area retailers, Leisch said. In 1996, two back-to-back snowstorms and an unrelated shutdown of the federal government severely impacted the sector, he said.

Circuit City Stores Inc., the electronics chain, said it's hopeful it can recoup lost sales after closing several dozen stores this weekend, especially since its big-ticket items are not necessarily impulse buys.

"If somebody was considering buying a big-screen TV prior to the snow, they are probably still thinking about it," spokesman Jim Babb said.

But some retailers were too anxious to take the wait-and-see approach. Bill Angrick, chief executive of Liquidation.com, said that many chains started offloading their inventory to his online auction site as soon as bad weather reports started rolling in last week.

Angrick's business, based in the District, auctions off merchandise in bulk from large retail chains to some 70,000 professional wholesalers.

"Retailers were literally going down the aisle, assessing the best use for their shelf space, and pulling items from their stores" in anticipation of the snow, Angrick said. They were loath to hold onto merchandise that might not sell, he said. As a result, Liquidation.com is doing about 50 percent more business this week than it did same time last year, he said.

Pam Felix, co-owner of California Tortilla, did not have the luxury of offloading anything. So to woo customers into her quick-service Mexican restaurants, she's relying on a time-tested marketing ploy: freebies.

Last night, Felix and her business partner, Alan Cohen, sent e-mails to 8,000 consumers touting today's free chips and queso special at their Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac locations.

"It works out great," Felix said. "For those people who are not sure if they want to venture out, it gives them a little extra incentive."

Snow filled an empty parking lot at Potomac Mills Mall on Monday. All stores at the mall reopened yesterday.