It was great if you sold salt, sand, shovels, scrapers, sleds and skis.

It wasn't so great if you needed to cash a check, catch a plane, receive a letter or call an information operator.

But except for those who have trouble even in the best of times, the big snow did not appear to impose an unbearable hardship on most Washingtonians.

There were adequate supplies of groceries, despite an initial temptation to hoard, and no shortage of fuel, despite the difficulty of getting it to the proper furnaces.

D.C. Postmaster William H. Gordon said only about 10 percent of the postal workers in the District showed up for work yesterday, greatly restricting the collection and distribution of mail. Mail service was hampered further by late openings of area airports, and late-running trains and trucks, Gordon said.

Downtown, where carriers walk their routes, "What mail was available was delivered," Gordon said. All of the 20 substations from which carriers are assigned were open, but some carriers who reported for work couldn't get their vehicles to the sidestreets, the postmaster said.

Of the 36 other substations that sell stamps and accept packages, only 19 were open, Gordon said.

Most grocery stores managed to open, even if they were short-staffed, and while few reported a shortage of food, many ran out of change because so many banks were closed.

Merchants who had planned for George Washington's birthday sales found their shops overstocked with sale items and short of goods suddenly in demand because of the snow.

"We've got plenty of lawn mowers and fertilizer," said Rob MacDonald, assistant manager of the McIntire hardware store in the Westbard shopping center in Bethesda," But we're sold out of shovels, salt, sand and ice scrappers"

Across the Potomac in Alexandria, pharmacist W. G. Wright faced a similar plight.

"Unfortunately, we're a drug store," said Wright, the owner of the Claremont Drug Store, who said a stream of passers-by came in seeking shovels and chains.

"But we don't even sell cigarets," said Wright, who did sell out of film to residents of nearby high rise apartments who sought to record the event photographically.

Using a four-wheel drive vehicle, Wright's pharmacy was able to delived prescriptions to the three nursing homes it supplies.

Despite all of the abandoned cars on the streets, business was "only about halfway," at the Penn Forest towing service in Clinton. "People are just leaving them sit, but I'll bet we'll be busy tomorrow (Wednesday)," said Tom Malley.

As news of the storm spread throughout the nation on evening newscasts Monday, the volume of long distance telephone calls into the area became "quite heavy," according to C & P spokesman Web Chamberlin.

Local calls also were so heavy that occasionally persons dialing local residences received recorded messages saying that all circuits were busy.

Because only 25 percent of the operators scheduled for duty got to work Monday, and 65 percent yesterday, customers dialing 411 for information, or seeking operator assistance, often had long waits.

The storm didn't drive everyone to drink, although a few walked in to Addy Bassin's MacArthur Liquors in Northwest Washington, where business was slow because several large party orders had been cancelled.

The near-record snow delayed funerals because grave diggers couldn't work, and some bodies had to be put into storage, according to a mortician at Joseph Gawler's in Friendship Heights. A spokesman at the Donald M. Stein Hebrew Memorial Funeral Home in Takoma Park said "this act of God" would take precedence over the Jewish custom of burial within 24 hours.

Leonard Steuart, president of Steuart Petroleum Co., a major supplier of fuel oil to industrial and commercial clients, said two Coast Guard cutters and a company-owned tug were clearing ice in the Potomac so two barges of heating oil could be delivered to the company terminal on the Anacostia River.

Steuart urged homeowners to turn down their thermostats to conserve oil and uncover the lines to their tanks to facilitate delivery.

Giant Food Inc. spokesman Barry Sher said all 80 of the chain's Washington area stores were open Monday and yesterday, although some stores limited the number of customers inside to 20 at-a-time because of a shortage of employes.

Spot shortages of milk and bread ended with deliveries by noon yesterday, Sher said.

At the Safeway at Connecticut Avenue and Yuma Street NW, cashiers were instructed to ask customers for the correct change, and to accept checks only for the amount of purchase.

Employe Ron Brett said the store would have to close if it ran out of change because it had not received a promised delivery from the local branch of Riggs National Bank.

To discourage hoarding, the store held back half of its weekend supply of milk until yesterday, but that may not have been necessary. A kind of natural balance appeared to have been struck as customers who normally drive to the store were limited to buying the amount of goods they could carry along icy streets and sidewalks.