How's business?

At Christmas time, it pays to check the weather, say Washington merchants.

First there is the cold and clear theory. Such weather some merchants say brings in customers to pack away winter coats and sweaters for pressents.

Others claim warm and clear weather is best because people like to go out to shop in such conditions.

Curtis Woodard, sales manager of Erol's Television sales, a major television sales chain, however, subscribes to the "drizzle" theory.

"If it is just a little nasty then people will come out to the store," he says. "A drizzle will remind them that snows are likely later in the winter. A drizzly day is not bad at all in the television business."

The weather that sells television may not sell Cuisinarts. And the weather that sells furs may not sell bongo drums. That is the conclusion of a PhD in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business who asked to remain annoymous.

"You talk to 10 merchants on the street and get 10 different theories on the weather," he said.

The most reliable theory, the professor said, is simple and widely accepted: If it is cold long before Christmas, then people tend to buy coats and sweaters. If it is not cold, the theory continues, who knows what they will buy?

"Christmas shopping is mass hysteria," the professor said. "It is hard to theorize about."

Nonetheless, Kent Altemus, sales manager for D. L. Bromwell Inc.,"The Fireplace People" in the Washington area has theorized.

Altemus seems to have come up with a Christmas shopping theory that though contradictory is all-inclusive.

He said that warm weather in the area this fall and winter has led to slow sales of fireplace equipment and forced Bromwell to have pre-Christmas sales.

However, Altemus said, the warm weather has been helpful in bringing people out ot the stores to shop for fireplace equipment.

For the fireplace equipment industry, warm weather, then, is both good and bad-at the same time, he said.