Shirlington Shopping Center merchants have welcomed developer Oliver T. Carr's $250 million proposal to renovate the 38-year-old south Arlington center but have expressed concern about higher rentals and the impact of construction on business.

"I'm elated," declared Frances W. Oddenino, president of Shirlington Cleaners. "It should bring more business into the center." But Oddenino said, "I'm sure during construction it will be a hardship."

"It's good for Shirlington, it's probably good for Arlington, but I don't think it will be good for me," said Leonard Robert Wendling, owner of Economy Office Furniture, a business he said depends on low rental rates. "I probably wouldn't be able to afford to stay at Shirlington ."

Proposals filed with Arlington County last week call for renovation of some existing commercial space and the construction of a new hotel, condominiums, commercial and office buildings at the center, which is north of Shirley Highway (Interstate Rte. 395) near Arlington Mill Drive.

Merchants said they are pleased at the prospects for revitalizing Shirlington, one of the nation's first suburban shopping centers. Newer centers such as Tysons Corner, Seven Corners and Landmark drew away customers and helped erode the prosperity Shirlington once enjoyed.

Before learning of Carr's specific plans, merchants voiced skepticism about whether any action was in the offing. "I've heard proposals so many times, and so long, and they haven't done anything," optometrist M. D. Curtis said.

"The Shirlington residents have been told time and time again that there would be redevelopment, and it hasn't occurred," echoed Geri Crossland, manager of W & J Sloane Furniture Clearance Center.

Now, however, hope is taking root in the minds of retailers at the aging center, which has a number of vacant stores and is bordered by empty lots targeted for development.

"I'm very optimistic," said Stanley I. Martin, owner of Shirlington Delicatessen Restaurant, which has rented space in the center for 40 years, longer than any other current tenant. "It's something the center has needed for the last 10 years." Martin said he believes that Carr will be able to persuade the Arlington County Board to approve the project.

Some merchants spoke of their fears about the impact of redevelopment at Shirlington, where, on a recent weekday, sidewalks were nearly deserted and most parking spaces were empty.

"I think it's great for Shirlington," said Charles E. Rainford, a State Farm Insurance agent. But Rainford is concerned that the building in which he rents space may be razed, and that he may be forced out of the center.

Developers have said some of the existing commercial buildings may be demolished, but no specific sites have been named.

Jung Ae Cha, owner of Shirlington Hair Flair, said he worries that relocation during construction will cost him long-term customers, and Martin said the delicatessen will be difficult to move. But the need for new development is worth temporary disruption, Martin and other merchants said.

Some retailers said Shirlington needs new, large anchor stores in addition to Best Products Inc., its biggest store, to attract customers to the center, but Carr's plans envision smaller stores oriented to the nearby community. "They're talking about having a 'neighborhood' shopping center," Oddenino explained.

"The center is going to die completely unless they do something," said Curtis, who expressed optimism after reading of Carr's proposals last week. "It will help, surely, but it will take time," he said.

The project would probably take 10 to 15 years to complete after obtaining county approval, said Michael G. McGowan, the Carr firm's project manager for Shirlington.