The cold frosting of ice that lay upon Washington yesterday morning threatened to eliminate a day of last-minute Christmas shopping. But the noon sun melted everything in the way of the desperate masses who had been sitting home filled with fear that the weather would stay them from their appointed rounds. The tardy gift-buyers poured into the streets belatedly and soon filled the stores.

At Lowen's toys in Bethesda, a young boy raced around on a tricycle, anticipating it for a gift and letting his mother know in no uncertain terms. Al Lowen nailed the tot nicely, saying, "You might run into someone."

Lowen has been dodging tots and dispensing information on toys for years -- but this is the last Christmas there for him. His wife Gert, his fulltime cashier, worked the register frantically.

"After 50 years, 40 with toys and 20 here, I think I've worked long enough," he said.

No time to linger with his thoughts, though.

The store was filled with parents who slipped away from the children for a few hours to chase down the gift the kid maybe wrote to Santa Claus for.

"Do you have a riding outfit for a Barbie doll? I don't mean the cowboy outfit, I want the riding outfit."

A father asked about a doll house for his child. Lowen said, "This is not for a child, this is for someone who wants a hobby."

He walked a few steps to show the man a doll house for kids.

"It's built like a fortress and only takes six minutes to assemble," Lowen said.

No sale.

In the fur department at Saks Fifth Avenue, the minks were moving a little slower than when they were alive. A saleswoman said, "The most expensive mink we sell is about $8,000, but they have been on sale marked down from $9,500.

"People come in and try them on, but we can tell the serious buyer from the try-ons."

A man who made a bit of sales history appeared recently and bought two mink coats for his wife.

Same size? the saleswoman was asked.

"Of course."

John Yarmola tries to take Christmas shopping lightly. An official with the Seafarers International Union and a merchant sailor, he said, "I don't like the crowds, I like to think about shopping, it takes a few days to look around.

"I buy a gift for the girls in the office, maybe they get them a week after Christmas, but it's nice because then they are tired of their other gifts."

But one gift that Yarmola won't put off is one for his wife, which he will put under his tree when he flies home to Chicago today. "This also takes a lot of thought," he said preparing to face the crowd. "I might want to buy a string of pearls in a jewelry store on Connecticut Avenue. When I find the place I want to buy it I figure out how many bars there are from the AFL-CIO building to the shop." He laughed.

A tiny damper appeared in his story when he added, "You know there is now a real ghost of Christmas past. It's the bills."

At 5 o'clock, fire trucks surrounded Woodie's downtown store. That didn't stop anyone. Hundreds of shoppers stepped over hoses and went about their business.

The fire was in a storage closet on the sixth floor and was extinguished quickly.

Bill Mitchell, who stood in a doorway with two heavy shopping bags, said, "I knew what I wanted and it only took 20 minutes. . . But now I have to go to Landover Mall to pick up a small [toy] car for my son."

Evelyn Woodhead, an employe of Woodies for 15 years, was working the information booth and batted away with answers to every question.

"That was Sean Donlon, the ambassador from Ireland, who just asked for the electronic toy department," she was told.

"Can I get to the Metro this way?"

"Which way is . . ."

A young man who wanted directions to the sports department was told that in addition, if need be, there also was a sports store up the street and was given the name of it.

Turning, she smiled and said, "Did you ever hear about "The Miracle of 34th Street' in New York?"

"It's a Christmas story when someone in Macy's sends a customer to Gimbel's. You just saw a miracle."