In the latest of the "smash-and-grab" burglaries that have plagued area merchants recently, thieves looted the Garfinckel's department store in Montgomery Mall early yesterday morning of $150,000 in furs, according to police.

A company spokesman said yesterday that the burglary was the largest in Garfinckel's history.

Police said thieves broke a window and a side door at the store shortly after midnight, took the furs, and were gone in less than four minutes before police arrived.

"Without a question, this is the largest heist we've had, the largest loss in the history of the chain," said Albert D. Nemecek, the corporate treasurer of the Garfinckel's chain. "Before it was all nickel and dime stuff."

Another company official, James E. Branson, said the furs belonged to the Evans Fur Co. of Chicago, and were leased to Garfinckel's. Officials would not say how many furs were taken.

Recently, Garfinckel's lost about $20,000 in jewelry when burglars used the same "smash-and-grab" method to break into the company's downtown department store, according to police and company officials.

The wave of "smash-and-grab" burglaries has struck more than 80 stores in the Washington area in the last six months, according to store security officials. Thieves have made off with about $1 million worth of jewelry, furs and other merchandise.

Police say the thieves generally use the same simple, violent technique to circumvent the stores' elaborate security systems. A window or door is broken with a brick, and the burglars run into the store and carry out valuables before police arrive.

In addition to targeting the merchandise they intend to steal in advance, the thieves sometimes smash a window and clock the time it takes for police to arrive. When the actual thefts are carried out, the thieves rarely spend more than five minutes in a store.

In one of the most spectacular burglaries, robbers broke a window at the Woodward & Lothrop store in Annapolis on Nov. 2 and made off with more then $200,000 in gold jewelry.

District police have set up two special squads to work on the smash-and-grab thefts, including a "quick response" team that tries to arrive within minutes of a reported burglary.

Last week District of Columbia police arrested seven people in connection with six such smash-and-grab thefts in downtown Washington.

Jimmie Wilson, head of the D.C. police burglary squad, said that police were going to continue special squad patrols in hopes of stopping the thefts.