Pearlie B. Pitt was there early, before 9 a.m., waiting for the doors at Iverson Mall to swing open on the Washington area's annual one-day shopping extravaganza.
With her 3-year-old nephew Tarell tagging along behind her, Pitt spent $125 in two hours at the mall in Prince George's County and claimed to have saved almost as much.
"Gee whiz, I saved at least $60 on this bedspread alone," said the Forest Heights resident. "You just can't beat George Washington Birthday sales."
Thousands of bargain hunters such as Pitt converged on shopping malls and department stores in the area yesterday, lured by balmy weather and the promises of discounts of more than 50 percent.
For their part, local merchants took advantage of the federal holiday with gimmicks that included blue chip sales, half-off offers and buy-now bonuses. Carpet dealers advertised wall-to-wall savings, men's clothiers beckoned with suit-yourself promotions and furniture stores promised not to bill till May.
Although no sales figures were available, retailers reported doing brisk business, especially in electronic equipment, housewares and home furnishings and women's clothing.
"We're swamped," said Philip Browles, stock manager at the Circuit City electronics store in Wheaton. "They're buying the full gamut, VCRs, TVs, compact discs . . . . Microwaves are doing real well, and it's not even Mother's Day."
At Tysons Corner Center, where heavy traffic caused longer delays than usual entering and leaving the parking lot, stores and escalators were as jammed as the lot, said spokesman Calvin Murano. "I'm sure nobody was surprised -- or disappointed -- by today's turnout," he said.
The shopping appeared to be good news for merchants who posted only moderate sales nationally during the Christmas shopping season. Locally, the federal holiday is traditionally one of the retail industry's biggest selling days.
Some shoppers weren't snared by yesterday's enticements. Pat Carter of Temple Hills spent exactly 15 minutes in a Woodward & Lothrop department store. "I knew exactly what I wanted," said Carter, who chose a leather handbag at $20 off.
In Arlington, a local radio station and a major airline used the holiday to give away 98 round-trip tickets from Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles. The promotion, for a new $99 one-way fare that Continental Airlines is offering for two weeks in March, attracted about 400 people to a hotel in Crystal City for the random drawing.
The lingering spirit of Valentine's Day and the weather were credited with boosting sales throughout the weekend.
"Traditionally in the Washington area, [the holiday] is a big, big, shopping day. That's now stretched into a weekend," said White Flint Mall marketing director Joan Goldberg. "When you have two holidays back-to-back, they always play off each other."
"The weather is a factor on a day like today," said Calvin O. Pierce, general manager of the Hecht Co.'s flagship store, which opened last fall in downtown Washington. "Most of us expected it to be blistery cold or snowy," he said.
Sales there were heavy through the early afternoon, some employes said, but the big crowds had disappeared well before the 8 p.m. closing. Still, Pierce said the store had done 50 percent more business than it did during last year's holiday sale, when the store was in the aging building on F Street NW.
Outside the store, however, business was not so good for vendors who complained that the holiday had kept away many of their regular customers and holiday bargain hunters shunned their wares.
Holiday shoppers are "looking for shirts, shoes, dresses and appliances," said vendor Oscar Hall. "We only got belts, bags and wallets. Business stinks."