As the subway trains roll in and out of the Rhode Island Metro station, passengers can see workers putting the finishing touches on the sprawling Rhode Island Shopping Center, the District's newest shopping complex, which is scheduled to be fully operational by spring.

Zayre opened its first store in Washington in the shopping complex in May. "It is a super store and we are very happy with its performance," said store manager George Morvan. " We think it is a good investment and are looking into the possibility of opening other Zayre stores in the District."

Payless Shoes Source opened Oct. 11 and a Safeway is scheduled to open in the middle of next month. Other stores in the $19 million complex at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE will probably not open until next year, officials said.

The 12-acre shopping center, which was partially financed with a $2.65 million federal grant, will also include a Peoples Drug Store, dental clinic, video rental shop, women's wear store and food shops.

Dorothy Jackson, pushing a cart half-filled with toys and holding on to her young daughter, said she was very happy that Zayre decided to open early. She said she used to shop at the Zayre in Silver Spring but can now walk from her home in the Edgewood Terrace apartments behind the shopping center.

"It is convenient and I get my money's worth," said Jackson.

Other customers, also accustomed to driving to the suburbs, said they shopped at Zayre for the discount prices on household goods. Some are even doing some early Christmas shopping from shelves already filled with stockings, mistletoe, artificial Christmas trees and decorations.

About half the shoppers arrive by car and the other half by subway, according to Morvan.

The shopping center, a few blocks south of Catholic University, is under construction in a largely residential community that has few stores. Developer David Rosenstein of B and R Associates, the center's creator, said surveys showed the median income for the community to be about $25,000 a year. "It is a huge neigborhood with no place to shop."

The city expects the new center to provide 359 permanent jobs -- at least 234 of them for District residents -- and to increase tax revenues for the site, which was previously the address of abandoned warehouses, from $82,000 a year to $2.7 million.

Kwasi Holman, director of the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development, said the city has supported the center because "it was vacant for 18 years. It's good to have a shopping center there."