Ken Ceppos flipped open the ledger of his children's clothing shop at Landover Mall and pointed to the bleak statistics. Sales for the last week in June were $80 less than the week of the big February blizzard - a week when he had been open only two days.
"Business stinks," declared Ceppos, the fast-talking manager of kids in Gear. "The gas crisis is making everyone bananas."
What has happened to Ceppos appears to be one of the more severe examples of the impact of The Gas Crunch of '79, but economists say there is no question that the gasoline shortage has jolted the Washington area's economy.
It is hard, of course, only two months the gas crisis, to translate short-term statistics into any long-term conclusions about retail sales.
Motorists who have decided to save gasoline in July by forgoing their regular Saturday trips to Tysons Corner may crame as much spending into a one-day shopping spree over Labor Day.
But some types of impact are easier to measure: revenues from beach cottages unrented in Ocean City, movies not attended at White Flint, ice cream cones not purchased at Montgomery Mall are gone forever.
Even more worrisome, a growing number of business leaders and economists think that the gasoline crunch is giving Washington an early taste of that phenomenon long-regarded as unthinkable here: recession.
"Everyone was expecting a [business] slowdown in the fall," Dean Witter Reynolds security analyst Fred Kopf said yesterday. The gasoline shortage, he said, seems to have "made the recession start a little early."
John R. Tydings, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, agreed that the gasoline crisis is reviving fears left over from the 1974-1975 recession, which shattered Washington's myth of economic invulnerability.
"One of the questions that is very much unanswered is whether this community is a recession-proof town," Tydings said.
Kopf, a retail sales specialist, says that large regional shopping malls like Tysons, Springfield and White Flint - which draw customers from as far as 25 miles away - are being hit the hardest by the gasoline shortage.
And specialty stores within the malls, which depend heavily on sales of seasonal merchandise such as summer clothing, have borne the brunt of the losses, Kopf adds.
In all, says William McDonald, marketing vice president for Woodward and Lothrop, the current situation "has all the signs of a recession in Washington, D.C."
Not all the worrisome economic signs can be directly attributed to the gas shortage. Double-digit inflation is also having an impact. But economists say some of the region's economic woes can be directly linked to the gas crisis.
Tourism, a $1 billion industry here, has continued to slump, according to most indicators. Restaurants report fewer customers, especially at dinner-time. Hotels are starting to feel a pinch.
"Everybody's moaning the blues," said Edward MacMillan, president of the Hotel Association of Washington. "The reservations are very slow. The no-shows are increasing." And there are some initial signs of increased unemployment stemming from the fuel shortage.
Car sales have declined sharply in the region. In the District of Columbia sales of new cars, trucks and other vehicles fell by 18.5 percent last month compared with June 1978, according to city government statistics. In Virginia, motor vehicle sales dropped by 16.8 percent last month. In Maryland, state officials reported a 16.6 percent decrease in new car sales in June.
Only small cars are in demand. In Maryland Cadillac sales plunged by 44.8 percent last month, while Volkswagen purchases soared by 71.9 percent, according to state Motor Vehicle Administration figures.
Leland E. Traywick, an economist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, expects the downturn to continue this year and during at least part of 1980, both because of the gasoline shortage and because of other signs of a national economic recession. "There's going to be some definite falloff for a while," Traywick said. Some economists believe the effects of gas shortage may taper off by 1981, with a rebound in car sales and other purchases. But they view the gas price surge as likely to alter long-term spending patterns.
"There are going to be some permanent effects," said Daniel J. B. Mitchell, a Brookings Institution economist. He predicted that because of increased fuel prices, people will probably continue to drive less, rely more on mass transit, buy some fuel-efficient cars and try to live closer to where they shop or work.
Store managers say customers are shopping closer to home, doing more buying by telephone and cutting back on casual "impulse" purchases.
Customers, they say, frequently refuse to make return visits to pick up items that are temporarily out of stock or to have a pair of slacks or some other garment altered.
Several major retail dealers have noted a substantial drop in sales on weekends, when gas has been most difficult to find.
"Most people know that if they use up their gas shopping on the weekend, they won't have any way of getting to work on Monday morning," said William D. Strigel, district manager here for the J.C. Penny Co. department store chain. Penny's weekend business has dropped by 5 to 15 percent, he said.
The gas crunch seems to be affecting not only retail sales but sales of homes as well. Some real estate dealers say buyers are grabbing up homes near Metro Subway stops, but avoiding houses in outlying areas that have to be reached by long automobile rides.
"Silver Spring is one of the hottest markets around and I'm sure Metro has a lot to do with that," said Arch Kennedy, vice president of the big Colquitt-Carruthers real estate firm.
Ernie Banks, a Silver Spring real estate dealer, cited a home near the Metro station that recently sold for $145,000 - about $10,000 more than be estimated it would have brought before the fuel crisis. "It was snapped up," he said.
Likewise, businessmen have noted an upswing at stores near Metro subway stops and heavily populated areas, while sales at some outlying shopping plazas are sagging.
"Our two stores on the subway lines [at the Metro Center and Pentagon stations] have seen something of an upturn in business," said McDonald of the Woodward and Lothrop chain.
Officials at Peoples Drug Stores, the area's largest drug chain, said the gas shortage appears to have dampened sales most significantly at their Montgomery Mall and Tysons Corner shops.
"Our downtowns stores are all up over our other stores," said Peoples President Sheldon W. Fantle.
Some date are preliminary. District of Columbia government economists said umemployment had increased in May by 0.65 percent among gas stations attendants, auto dealership employes and other workers in gasoline related businesses. There was a loss of about 200 such jobs, they said, in an economic sector that employs about 30,000 workers.
Nevertheless, local government officials say they expect the gas shortage to lead eventually to a more substantial rise in unemployment.
Other statistics are readily available and widely cited as economic barometers, especially in the tourist industry. Visits to Mount Vernon decreased by 17 percent in June and more steeply in the first few days of this month.
The number of tourists at the White House declined in June and early July after rising markedly before the gas shortage began. Sharp drops in tourism were also reported at Ford's Theatre and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Tom Mack, vice president of Landmark Tourmobile, which offers sight-seeing tours of the Mall and trips to Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon, said his business was off by 22 percent in June compared with last year. Walter Williams, vice president of Government Services Inc., noted a marked drop in sales at GSI snack bars near the Mall.
This is the kind of business that is not recoverable.
Amid this evidence of decreasing tourism here, officials recently uncovered one statistic running against the tide. Visits to the Washington Monument were reported to have risen by about 4,000 last month - from 167,800 in June 1978 to 171,900 in June of this year.
A possible explanation, officials say, is that more Washington-area families are riding to the top of the monument because they are doing less out-of-town vacationing themselves. CAPTION: Picture 1, "Everybody's moaning the blues": Tourist statistics indicate gasoline shortage is hurting that industry. By John McDonnell - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Ken Ceppos' sales in the last week of June are below blizzard week.By John McDonnell - The Washington Post