It was the third day of the "relocation sale" at the downtown Hecht's. It was hot. It was crowded. It was loud.
"I'll probably drop dead," one white-haired woman said in the midst of it all yesterday. "You get so excited and you perspire a lot.
"I've been here two days," she added, clutching a brass floor lamp, marked down from $100 to $37. "I always come when they have red dot sales. The first time I came and they told me it's another 20 percent off the marked price, I thought I was going to have a stroke.
"I just get too excited. I won't be coming back any more."
There isn't much time, anyway. Hecht's, at Seventh and F streets NW, is closing after 89 years, moving to a new $40 million, five-floor marble and granite store located several blocks west. The old store is scheduled to close Oct. 26, but may close sooner if the merchandise -- much of which is marked down more than 50 percent -- sells out, a company spokesman said. When Hecht's does shut its doors, the last of the great Seventh Street department stores will disappear.
All the mannequins have been removed to make room for the hordes of real people. Despite the crush of humanity yesterday, the shoppers patiently fingered materials, searched for tears in sweaters, compared price tags and stood in long lines.
"I came to find whatever I could that's cheap," said Priscilla Dizon, slipping a sweater dress over her head as she stood next to a sales table.
"I came one day and bought a TV set, carpet and kitchen utensils.
"I told my daughter before we left home to change her shoes and put on tennis shoes," she said, taking off the dress and tossing it on a nearby table.
"We got here at 11 and I plan to stay until 6."
There will be no budget store in the new Hecht's, and there was hardly a budget item left yesterday at the old store: several tables of $4.99 leather shoes, some marked-down tennis shoes, rain boots and disco high heels.
But Bernice Jones, who has shopped in that bargain basement "for years," managed to find some $18 shoes on sale for $10.
"What size is this, honey?" she asked someone standing nearby. "I can't see it. I've got to exchange the shoes I got this morning because they don't fit."
She was lucky enough to find another black pair. Most of the shoes were in pastels.
On every floor there were odd items awaiting buyers with odd needs, or tastes -- red satin men's caps, silver metallic gloves ("regularly $5, now 99 cents"), and three racks and two tables full of red, white and blue "USA" sweatbands for 49 cents.
The motif for the day was disarray. Pants hung on racks with shirts. Boys' clothes hung next to girls' clothes. Size 5s hung beside size 12s. And there were hundreds of clothing articles that weren't hung at all. Shoppers trampled cashmere sweaters and Liz Claiborne slacks in their rush for bargains.
George Osei was one of the brave men who flipped through women's dresses looking for a gift for "a special friend."
"I'm just here to look at women's clothes," he said, holding a dress in front of him to get a good look at it. "I'm not sure about the size, though. What size do you wear?" he asked a woman standing near him.
Jessica Damen, looking quite worn out, was on her way out the door. "It's very hot in here and the lines are long," she said, without really being asked.
"Here, put their names in the paper," she said, pointing to her two children. "They've been real good children. That's Rebekah dragging the bag -- there are some sheets and a comforter in there. That's Jonathan with the balloon."
The only things in the store that looked fresh were the chocolate chip cookies, and there was a line for them, too. Some departments were bare, some counters empty. There were no cameras in the camera department, no toys in toyland.
The "Land of Ahhs," where toddler and infant clothes usually were displayed, had been transformed into a nursery for "Cabbage Patch Kids" fuzzy slippers. From a distance, all a shopper could see was rows and rows of little pink Cabbage Patch heads sticking out of fuzzy balls