On the door to Ernest Turner's hardware and general department store on Main Street here there is a hand-printed sign that declares, somewhat defiantly, "The store that has not changed - 1903."

If that is the case - and from the looks of the store there is no reason to doubt it - Turner store is one of the few things that have not changed here, the hometown of the next President of the United States, in the last six months.

The changes began last spring when the first trickle of reporters arrived here as Jimmy Carter neared the Democratic presidential nomination. The number of outsiders grew steadily through the summer and fall to become after the election a flood that seemed to engulf the tiny community of 683 residents.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Plains will begin a new phase in its existence as the most famous small town in America. It is then that Jimmy Carter will leave his boyhood home to go to Washington. He will take with him his Secret Service agents, his staff and his press corps, which has swelled like the number of tourists.

He will leave behind his friends and neighbors and the tourists, in a town that, all agree, will never be the same.

Today, except for the rental truck backed up to Carter's house to be loaded with the family's personal goods, there were few signs that a mass exodus from this community was about to take place. Main Street remained clogged with cars. The license plates said the people were from places such as New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa and Oklahoma.

Ten miles to the east, in Americus, reporters went through their daily routine at the Best Western Motel, occasionally discussing the trip back to Washington on Wednesday.

For some townspeople and others alike, the past several months have been a time of excitement and prosperity. One such is Jimmy Murray, a co-owner of the Best Western Motel and the landlord to dozens of reporters and broadcast technicians since last summer.

"This has been the most exciting thing that's ever happened to these people," Murray said of himself and his employees.

Murray said he will miss the reporters he has met and the excitement that Carter and his entourage have brought to Plains and Americus. So will Jeanetter Chavers, who went to school with Jimmy Carter and who now drives a small tour van around Plains, showing the sights to tourists. The tour people, she said, are thinking of buying a larger vehicle because they expect the tourists to keep coming.

But while those who have prospered from the Carter boom have welcomed the strangers that it brought to Plains, others are more cautious in looking back on the past several months. One of those is Ernest Turner, whose hardware store, he says, has not prospered.

"If I had my druthers, it would not have changed," he said, still expressing pride that Carter will be President. "Tourists don't buy hardware and my regular customers can't park out front."

There was a time when Turner would not talk to reporters. He is the head of the board of deacons at the Plains Baptist Church and this fall he was on the opposite site from Carter over the emotional issue of intergrating the President-elect's church.

It was that issue, and the clash of emotions that it involved, that probably symbolized best the changes that have swept over Plains.

"It was a watershed, it was a good thing," the Rev. Bruce Edwards, the church pastor, siad of the intergration dispute today as he prepared to leave for the inauguration ceremonies in Washington.

Edwards, a kindly, soft-spoken 30-year-old minister, earned the admiration and friendship of many of the reporters who covered the controversy that swirled around his church. Like Murray and others, he said he will miss the friends he has made. But, yes, he admitted, "It's going to be kind of pleasant" next Sunday without all the cameras and reporters on the church grounds.

That was probably the predominant feeling on both sides today as the Carter press corps - a kind of semi-permanent encampment in Americus - prepared to leave the area. For the townspeople, it will mean less disruption in their daily lives.

For the press, it will mean an end to countless nights of dinner at Faye's Bar-B-Q Villa, a favorite hangout, and a return to the same motel quarters. Mostly, it will mean an end to the loneliness of people living in what is, after all, Jimmy Carter's home, not theirs.

David Rush of NBC Radio, in a broadcast from here earlier this week, tried to sum up some of these feelings. He spoke of the kindness and sympathy of the local people and, in a reference to novelist Thomas Wolfe's most famous work, "You Can't Go Home Again," concluded:

"We hope they will accept our heartfelt thanks for all of that and that they won't be insulted when we take issue with another Southerner who said you can't go home again. Mr. Wolfe, we can and we are, with great relish."