The store, a brick-and-concrete shoe box of a place, is locked and dark. Inside, there are rows of folding tables and metal racks, some of them stacked high with cutlery, glassware, and decorative items. Most of the selling floor, however, is as empty as the parking lot. In an office across the asphalt, a receptionist for Tuesday Morning Inc. -- the $37-million, privately held, Dallas-based corporation that operates this store and 56 others of the same name throughout the South and West -- is patiently delivering a speech she will give a dozen times today.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but all our stores are closed." No, she tells the telephone caller, contrary to what the name might indicate, the stores aren't just open on Tuesday mornings. They are open seven days a week (unless prohibited by blue laws), but only during the peak retail months of March, June, September, November, and December.

The stores may be closed, but it is business as usual at Tuesday Morning headquarters. Some 60 administrative personnel are gearing up for the next sale -- writing ads, selecting merchandise, negotiating and renegotiating leases for the vacant shopping-center space the company favors. Another 110 workers are in the warehouse, marking and shipping stock. It won't be long before the company's 1,400 part-time employees will be called back to work.

"It's like show biz," says Jim Goold, vice-president of sales. "There's a lot of preparation before you open, and our employees look forward to the sales as much as our customers do. Some of our clerks tell us they consider it a good sale if they manage not to spend any more money in the store than they made."

Tuesday Morning's claim to fame is closeout merchandise -- first-quality stuff whose only crime was being the wrong color or style for the full-price market's fickle taste. It sells for what the company calls a "legitimate" 50% to 80% off retail price. Customers appreciate Tuesday Morning (so named because founder and chairman Lloyd Ross believes Tuesday to be the "most positive" day of the week) for its money-back guarantee. Top-of-the-line manufacturers trust this outfit not to cause them any embarrassment. Not only does Tuesday Morning ask permission before using a brand name in an advertisement, the company pledges to pull goods from the shelves if competing department stores spot the mark-downs and holler foul.

Shrewd buying is the key to Tuesday Morning's success, says Goold -- that, and a willingness to keep slashing away at prices until even the buyer's mistakes grow legs. "Sooner or later, everything goes -- even the pink ceramic flamingos with the clocks in their bellies," he says. The only item ever relegated to the giveaway table was a shipment of candles that, in the Texas heat, had "developed some pretty grotesque shapes." But it is that anomalous five-months-on, seven-months-off sales schedule that really moves the merchandise, Goold believes.

Consumers, says Goold, don't -- and, indeed, won't -- buy gifts, linens, and table-ware 52 weeks a year. Better to feature what the customers want, when they want it -- toys and Christmas paraphernalia in December, sheets and blankets in the fall, and picnic ware in the summer. And let the leased stores sit idle in between. How can he be so sure? Tuesday Morning officials tested the theory in their Little Rock store by staying open year-round last year. Not only did the store have lower overhead when it operated part-time, it also had a much higher sales volume. Apparently, the knowledge that the customer has limited access to a limited selection of merchandise spurs sales, officials concluded.

"It's that sense of urgency," says Goold. "That's what blows the doors off. Without it, we're just another off-price retailer."