A clerk at the Tysons Corner leather shop remembered telling an attractive, well-dressed woman Saturday that the purse she was admiring could hold "almost anything."

"Good," the woman replied, pulling a long butcher knife from the folds of her fashionable tan overcoat. "I want you to fill it with all of your cash.'

The clerk at Joan Bari Handbags dutifully stuffed about $400 into the purse, and the woman, described by police as in her early 20s, grabbed the bag and darted into the crowded mall.

Fairfax police yesterday issued an alert for the 5-foot-4 woman, saying they believe she is responsible for four other robberies and one attempted holdup in the Virginia suburbs. Officcers said the woman yesterday walked into the Cinderella Dry Cleaners & Laundry in the Willston Shopping Center, robbed a worker at knife-point and fled in a late-model luxury car.

Four of the robberies occurred along the Rte. 7 corridor around the Seven Corners area near the boundaries of Falls Church and Arlington and Fairfax counties. In each case, police spokesman Warren Carmichael said, the woman browses in the shop until all other customers have left before producing a knife.

Carmichael said all the crimes involved "small retail stores located in larger shopping centers."

He said it was very "unusual for a single woman to be doing this. In most other cases, female criminals are usually accomplices, not acting along."

"It appears that the same woman is responsible for each of the crimes." another police spokesman agreed, "A lone woman robber is a real rarity."

Not all the woman's robberies have gone smoothly, police said. A clerk at one store threw a potted plant at her as she fled with $50, and Robert McNamara, a clerk at a small tobacco shop, said the woman raced from his store after he began shouting "holdup" at her.

"My wife originally refused to give her any money," said the shopowner whose wife tossed the plant. "But she (the robber) came around the counter and threatened her with the knife."

"I thought she may have been shoplifting," said a clerk at the Dragon Palace Gifts Co., 3511 S. Jefferson St., which was robbed Friday. "But she meant business, and I didn't want to take any chances."

Carmichael said that police had no identity for the suspect in the case. He said the woman in the first four holdups had curly, shoulder-length hair, but that the woman in the latest incident appeared to have being wearing a red wig. The suspect, who is white with a light complexion, weighs about 120 pounds, he said.

Robert McNamara, the clerk at the Tobacco Barn, 6201 Arlington Blvd., described the woman as persistent. First she asked for a pack of cigarettes, he said. When McNamara, a 56-year-old, retired Navy veteran looked at the woman again, she calmly announced that it was a stickup.

"You don't really want to do that," he said.

"Yes, I do," she said, pointing a long-handled buck knife at him.

"There are a lot easier ways to get money, you know," he said.

"No, there aren't. Go ahead and scream if you want," she said.

So McNamara began yelling "holdup," and the woman fled. An hour later, a clerk in a small store four miles away was looking down the blade of the same knife, according to police.