The phone rang in the tiny office of J. W. Ayers's 5 and 10 Cents Store yesterday. "I'm sorry Miss Smith, you won't be able to work this week," said secretary Margaret Jones. "I've had to call everyone and tell them. I'm sorry, it's just one of those things."

Miss Smith is 78 and has been working as a partime clerk in the Westover Shopping Center dime store for 24 years. Normally the store is open until 9 p.m. every night and until 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.

But last Saturday Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin announced that all businesses would have to limit their public hours to 40 a week at least for the next two weeks, which means that places like Apers' 5 and 10 have to cut back drastically on their normal service.

"All the part-time people will be out of work," said Mrs. Jones, who's worked at the store for 29 years. The store employs five part-timers, who start work at 6 p.m. "I'm sure it's going to hurt the small businessman," said Mrs. Jones' daughter-in-law, Mary. "We can't afford the losses like the big chain stores can."

The Westover Shopping Center consists of a short strip of stores - most of them family-owned and operated - along Washington Boulevard in Arlington. Many of the stores, such as the bakery and the beauty salon, normally are closed on Mondays, but on the others new, hand-made signs were posted yesterday to announce the revised hours.

"There was quite a crowd waiting outside when we opened at noon," said Jack Lucia, who with his brother, Tony, manages and owns the Westover Market. "I don't think it will hurt us. People will just have to adjust." Normally the store opens at 8 a.m.

To comply with the governor's order, the market has more than halved its normal schedule from 85 hours a week to 40. Lucia usually works between 65 and 70 of those hours - for him the cutback comes as a not entirely unwelcome break.

"I'll spend some time with my wife," he said, between cutting, weighing and wrapping meat for customers. "I'll going to enjoy it."

Elsewhere in the shopping center - as in Northern Virginia and the rest of the state - the governor's announcement meant confusion primarily.

Local county government offices reported being inundated with calls, and the state energy office in Richmond set up 22 extra phone lines and brought in over 15 volunteers to answer them.

"At least 15 lines have been lit up all day since I got here at 8 a.m.," said one volunteer in Richmond. "And I heard they were still calling this morning at 3 a.m."

A Fairfax County spokesman said the county had yet to receive any official interpretation of the directive, and had to call the governor's office on Sunday to get even a copy of the announcement from which the county has been making its own interpretations.

"I've been on the phone all morning," said Emanuel Stikas, who with his father runs six White Star Cleanres in Northern Virginia, including the branch at Westover. Stikas said he listened to an all-news radio station on Saturday to hear the governor's message repeated several times, but still did not understand whether or not he would be able to run his dry-cleaning machinery, in excess of the 40 hours a week he can serve customers.

"The local people told me to call the state energy office," he said. "They said I had to curtail the production (dry-cleaning) within 40 hours. It's all very dramatic to make an emergency announcement like that, but I think people should have been informed better."

In fact, Stikas was given the wrong information.

Both the Fairfax County spokewoman and the volunteer in Richmond said that only his retail service has to be curbed to 40 hours a week. If Stikas wants to come in on Wednesday, when he will close the store to work on paperwork, he may do so. The dry-cleaning plant may operate more than 40 hours - it just cannot be open to the public for more than 40 hours.

Both Mrs. Jones and Stikas expect to lose money this week and next - as much as $400 a day for Mrs. Jones and the dime store. Neither plans to permanently lay off employees. Lucia said his 13 employees will all work 40 hours - no overtime, but with as little other financial sacrifice as possible.

"All a small businessman has got over the big chains is service," said Stikas, who called around to other small dry-cleaners to make sure they planned to honor the 40-hour a week limit. "But it wouldn't help to be cited for violating a public trust."