One of the Washington area's largest camera store chains has paid Montgomery County $2,500 and agreed not to advertise merchandise as on sale when the price remains the same for an extended period, according to a settlement signed with the county's Office of Consumer Affairs.

Snap Shops, which has 17 stores in the Washington area, signed the agreement after the consumer office monitored the store's newspaper ads for several months last year and found cameras advertised as sale merchandize at the same prices for as long as two months.

Under the terms of the settlement, Snap Shots was not required to admit violating any law. But consumer affairs spokesperson Judy Doctor said the chain store agreed after two months of negotiations not to advertise a price as a sale figure unless the price is a reduction from the store's regular price. It also agreed not to advertise that a sale is for a limited time when, in fact, an item is sold continually at the alleged sale price.

"When an item is continually sold at a so-called sale price, the sale price becomes the regular price," said a statement explaining the terms of the settlement, released by the consumer office after the agreement was reached. "The advertiser is then no longer entitled to say an item is on sale unless a further reduction is made."

Lawyers for Snap Shops declined comment on the settlement.

Doctor said the consumer agency decided to pursue the case after receiving a complaint last spring. After charting the store's ads for several months, Doctor said the agency accumulated several examples of deceptive advertising.

Doctor said the store advertised a Vivitar Tele 835AW at a sale price of $49 for 10 or 11 weeks. At another time, a Keystone XR-308 was advertised at a reduced price of $29 for nine out of 11 weeks, Doctor said.

Although there is no specific county law that defines a time limit on sale merchandize, Doctor said the complaints could have been pursued under a county regulation prohibiting deceptive trade practices.

Although the agreement pertains specifically to Montgomery County stores--the consumer affairs office does not have jurisdiction outside the county--Doctor said the agency expects the effects of the agreement to be felt outside of the county because the store's ads covered all of its stores in Maryland, the District and Virginia.