Like most of us, S.H. Oliver of Northwest had read enough doom and gloom stories about the economy to know that times are hard. So when he called The Hecht Company's Silver Spring store the other day in an effort to place an order over the phone, he hardly expected what he got.

What he got was a salesman who didn't want to sell.

Here's the way it went.

Phone: Ring. Ring. Ring.

Operator (eventually): Hecht's.

Oliver: Men's clothing, please.

Operator: Thank you.

Phone: Click-click-click.

Male voice (eventually): Men's clothing.

Oliver: I'd like to order a man's suit from your catalog, please. It's on page 107. My size is . . . .

Voice: Sorry, sir, but we don't open until 10 a.m.

Oliver: But it's 9:55. You open in five minutes. You mean you won't take my order now?

Voice: That's right. We open at 10. Call back then.

Oliver: Now, wait a minute. This isn't a question. I'm a paying customer. I want to buy a suit, not talk about it.

Voice (hanging up): Sorry, sir.

If you who have relatives in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or anywhere else where unemployment is closing in on 20 percent, mail them a copy of this column. It may be the only laugh they get this month.

A guy has a chance to make a buck and doesn't take it! No wonder they can't figure out Our Town west of the Beltway.

How about it, Hecht's?

General manager John Clohessy said that the store's pre-10 a.m. phone policy will be "addressed and corrected . . . .

"I was surprised to hear that the central switchboard had put a call through to the floor prior to store opening," Clohessy said. "This system is set to ensure that when a customer calls, there will be someone there to take the call."

However, Clohessy added that "this does not excuse the fact that service was not given prior to 10 a.m., for customer service is the basis of our business."

As for S.H. Oliver, he says he'd rather go naked than buy a suit from Hecht's, in person or by phone. Hard to blame him.