A robber masquerading as a customer pulled a gun on six employes and three customers in the Albee shoe store in Rockville yesterday. forced them to disrobe, tied them up, became angry when he found only $200 in the cash register and shot the store manager in the back of the head.

The manager, Robvert L. Schneider, 40, was in critical condition last night at Suburban Hospital. Two fellow salesmen were hospitalized, one for chest pains and the other for acute anxiety after the 9 a.m. robbery.

Montgomery County police said last night they were seeking Willie Andrews, 34, of 8322 Fairhaven Dr., Gaithersburg, on a warrant charging him with assault with intent to murder in the shooting.

Earlier, the incident had touched off an unsuccessful two-hour search by police for a suspect in the downtown Rockville area. The incident shocked many merchants in the Rockville One-Stop Shopping Center at 101 N. Washington St. who, until yesterday, had considered their area a "haven from crime."

Witnesses and county police said the incident began shortly before 9 a.m. when Schneider of 2354 Sun Valley Cir. in Wheaton returned from a nearby bank where he had deposited the previous day's receipts. A bearded man entered, wearing dark slacks and a maroon shirt, and Saul Newfield, 66, the only other person besides Schneider in the store at the time, helped the man try on a pair of shoes.

The robber, the store's first customer, said the shoes were too large. While Schneider was in the stockroom getting a smaller size, the man pulled a small caliber black pistol from inside his shirt, pointed it at Newfield's head and ordered him to retreat to the stockroom.

The two men were ordered to strip and lie face down on the stockroom's linoleum floor. The gunman bound their wrists, left and returned to the stockroom enraged after finding that the store cash register contained only about $200.

The robber demanded more money from Schneider, called him a a "liar" when he said there was no more in the store and shot him in the head.

Shortly after the shooting, four other clerks and three customers, including two women, entered the store. The gunman ordered all of them to disrobe in the stockroom. He took their wallets and placed them in a black plastic store bag along with two pairs of shoes and the money from the register.

"The whole thing took about 15 minutes," said David Morris, a shoe clerk who entered the store shortly after the shooting. "He said, 'Do what I say or die.'"

Shoe clerk Gene Wilman was entering the store as the gunman departed. "He didn't seem nervous or anything. The robber just said 'Merry Christmas'in a way that made me think he knew me or something," Wilman said.

The gunman fled east on West Middle Street, county police said. After piecing together descriptions of the suspect from witnesses, police searched the Summit Apartments at 701 Monroe St., believing the suspect lived there.

After a two-hour search with a canine crew and state police helicopter, police said the suspect originally wanted was in fact already incarcerated at a state prison.

"We're back to where we started," said police spokesman Cpl. Phil Caswell.

Newfield, meanwhile, was treated for acute anxiety and released from Suburban Hospital. William Fleet, 42, another clerk, was listed in serious condition with chest pains at Montgomery General Hospital.

"It all happened very fast," Newfield said. "He (the gunman) started cussing and yelling at us when he saw how much money there was in the till."

Newfield said the gunman became even more agitated when the stream of clerks and customers entered the store. "The two women pleaded with him not to make them take their clothes off. But he said he'd kill them."

According to shoe clerk Mickey Eubanks, the customers and clerks did not resist and there was no panic in the stockroom. "We saw the blood on the floor and knew we'd better do what the man wanted."

Store owner Albert Kaplan, who was not present during the incident, said the robbery was his first since he opened the store 10 years ago.

So far this year there have been nearly 500 armed robberies in Montgomery County, according to police statistics. Records officials said the frequency of armed robberies increased by as much as 10 percent during December and the holiday season.

"People are out of money and want bo buy presents," one robbery detective said."They get desperate during Christmas."

Many area merchants expressed surprise and concern after the incident at the center, which occupies about two square blocks in the center of Rockville and is filled with about a dozen stores and specialty shops.

"You get a little shoplifting now and then but this is by no means a high-crime area," said Ted Smith, owner of Larry alan men's store. "We still take precautions against it. We don't open our doors in the morning until there are at least four clerks present."

Ed Rubin, manager of the treasure chest jewelers, said, "I've been here 18 years. It's an extremely quiet place because we do business with regular customers."

Rubin said there is usually a foot patrolman making rounds during the day at the shopping center and added, "There was never really any reason before to be apprehensive. Now we'll be more alert than ever."

Police robbery Det. James Robey said the shopping center "is not the kind of place where crimes like that occur. There's not much robbery even, much less violent crimes."

The shoe store reopened shortly before noon yesterday, after police interviewed all the witnesses and carted out loads of boxes and bags for fingerprinting.

Behind windows filled with gold tinsel and an array of other holiday decorations Morris, Newfield, Eubanks and Kaplan tired to go about business as usual at the store, fitting about a dozen customers with new shoes.

"It's insane," said Morris, who has worked at the store for three years. "I come in in the moning and see Bobby's (Schneider's) blood on the floor."

"Some Christmas," a customer added.