The world's foremost communist is creating capitalist glee.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Washington is making this a Christmas to remember for many local businesses, from souvenir sales people to TV technicians.

"I've been through elections and bombings and everything you get in the news capital of the world, but I've never seen people this busy," said Loretta Tramble, director of sales at the Washington International Teleport, an Alexandria company that transmits news coverage for dozens of foreign broadcasters. "We're going to be about four times our usual revenue for December. This is a lot of money."

Throughout the area, hoteliers, caterers, translators and purveyors of all things Slavic or even pseudo-Slavic are gearing up to profit from the public portion of a rather private event.

Despite the expected descent of 5,700 journalists, several hundred diplomats and assorted security forces, the summit is neither a huge event nor a very public one. The working meetings are held under strict security and the people involved are few indeed.

The summit pales next to a presidential inauguration or a large trade show. But the scope and potential of the three-day session have generated a jet stream of ancillary activity -- demonstrations, media coverage, social events and more media coverage -- all of which means money.

"December is usually very slow," said Steve Aburish, coowner of Bethany Limousine Service, which provides limos for the Madison Hotel, where most of the Soviet delegation will be housed. "Now we have a lot of news media, the Italians and the Belgians and so on. We're up 30 percent above usual. This helps the whole year."

The Hotel Association of Washington expects the summit to fill about 5,000 of the city's 18,000 hotel rooms Tuesday through Thursday, at an average rate of $83 a night. While the Soviets will be housed primarily at the Madison and the Vista International next door, journalists and technicians have reserved rooms throughout the city, and the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue will serve as press center.

By far the largest economic impact of the summit comes courtesy of the thousands of news hounds who will trample over one another in search of morsels of information. The media masses may be miserable about the stingy flow of news from the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings, but they will make many merchants happy.

Hargrove Inc. is a Lanham company that specializes in producing special events. "We are decorating, setting up portable control rooms, building stages and platforms, putting in carpeting and camera backdrops," said Paul Kowzan, an account executive. "This is really mostly a press event, and feeds are going to be going all over the world."

"We're at maximum impact right now," said Stephen Meeks, marketing manager at Mobile Video Services, which provides broadcasters with camera crews, equipment and microwave transmission. "We're at 80 percent above normal business."

All those news crews mean money for caterers, dry cleaners, telephone companies and power suppliers.

But although the public is not invited to the summit, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators aiming to capture some of that media attention will fill cash registers of local restaurants and retailers and support street vendors.

"On political things, people surprise you, especially around here," said Nancy Gruentzel, sales coordinator for Dallas Alice, a Rockville T-shirt maker that has two summit specials. One shirt shows Nancy Reagan hugging her husband and saying, "The Russians are here, darling."

"Gee, neato, nifty, I'll get the vodka," the president responds.

The other shirt depicts Reagan and Gorbachev and says, in Russian and English, "The Russian-American Peace Initiative."

"For our business, this is about like Oliver North and all that," Gruentzel said. This summer's Iran-contra hearings were a bonanza for T-shirt makers, but souvenir merchants fear that the summit business may be more short-lived.

However, the summit is expected to have a lasting effect in the hat industry. Nicole Backus, manager of Hats in the Belfry, a Georgetown shop, said Slavic-style hats, retailing for $45 to $85, are suddenly and strongly in.

"It's the Kremlin look, from that black Mercedes crowd," she said. "The fashion-forward, people in the real world, are really into these hats."

For men, there are classic Ambassadors, also known as Consuls, the generally black furry hats available in rabbit, muskrat, mouton and Persian lamb. For women, there are Cossack hats that Backus elegantly describes as "sort of like a salad bowl with black and white feathers in a diamond pattern."

Summit spirit has proved contagious among many merchants -- so much so that some fancy themselves guardians of global secrets.

A spokesman for Avignon Freres caterers in Adams-Morgan confirmed booking extra summit business but declined to reveal its clients or the types of food ordered. "Security problems," he said.

And at Berlitz Translation Services, Sue Johnson said the company has had "numerous requests" for summit-related interpreters. But she said their identities were secret.

Despite the high-security trappings of the meeting, most business people are only too happy to trumpet their sudden success.

"This is normally a busy time of year for us," said Stevan Werlinich, vice president of B&B Washington's Caterers. "The summit is not nearly as much business as an inauguration or the International Monetary Fund meeting, but the Russian advance group has contacted us, and this is additional business. "We already had one Russian function last Saturday and they did want apple pie and ice cream for dessert."

For many businesses, the summit makes hardly a blip in sales. Several liquor retailers reported no discernible changes in drinking habits, not even in vodka sales. Many souvenir shops have no plans to offer "Mikhailabilia." And party planners throughout Washington say their schedules are filled with only the standard complement of holiday fun.

"This is not going to be my big break," said Carol Bullock, a singer who bills herself as Cabaret Carol and offers her tunes for any occasion. "I can put a singing telegram together if they want it, but who would have a summit party?"

There is one industry on which the summit could have dramatic long-term impact: the arms business. Sam Cummings runs Interarms, an Alexandria company that bills itself as a "world leader in armaments." He has not sold anything to summit security forces, he said, but he has been thinking about his line of work.

Soviet TV journalists dropped by last week to find out whether Cummings is quaking over the possible loss of income if world leaders move closer to disarmament. Sure, Cummings said. "If total disarmament is achieved, it would hurt our military business. But that's a tremendous if. Unfortunately, we can rely on human folly continuing.

"I told the Russians I would love to see the summit achieve maximum disarmament, and they couldn't help but mutter, 'Da.' "