FREDERICK, Md. (AP) _ Doing their bit for the nation's struggling retailers, George and Barbara Bush shopped at a local mall Friday, buying toys, a compact disc and some sporting goods.

''It's easier to shop out in the country for us than it is downtown,'' Bush said before making a quick blitz through J.C. Penney's at the Frederick Towne Mall, about 20 minutes from Camp David, the presidential retreat where the Bushes are spending the holiday weekend.

Faced with mounting evidence that the economic slump has paralyzed American consumers, the Bushes picked one of the busiest shopping days of the year to hit the mall.

Their expedition came two days after the Commerce Department said that Americans cut back sharply on their spending last month, a repot that many analysts took as a sign the nation may be in for a double-dip recession. Consumer spending is key to any recovery because it accounts for two-thirds of economic growth.

''We've got a little toy department to look at to get some stuff for the grandchildren,'' Bush said. '''Slime' is the name of it, I believe.''

While Mrs. Bush went off in search of the gooey Slime, the president stayed behind to hunt for sporting goods.

''You're putting pressure on me,'' Bush said good-naturedly to a reporter following along as he wound his way through racks of sweat shirts and jogging shoes.

Bush picked out four pairs of ''USA'' athletic socks and pulled out a $20 to pay for the $15 purchase. He joked that he usually doesn't carry cash.

Then he headed to the second floor to look through the children's department, paying cash for a $13 toddler's sweat suit decorated with a Houston Oilers design, the football team of Bush's adopted hometown.

''We've got a guy that's that age,'' Bush told the salesman before adding that he needed to cut his shopping trip short because of the mob scene that erupted. Shoppers squealed, clapped and scrambled to get close enough to ask for his autograph.

''We'll probably push on,'' he said. ''I have a feeling we're holding up your operation.''

Bush then made his way to the main mall to find Mrs. Bush.

''Barbara, did you get your stuff? Did you get your Slime?'' the president called out before heading back to his motorcade.

Store workers said the presidential visit made their day chaotic.

''It just sucked everybody out of the mall,'' said Dan Revlock, manager of the women's department at J.C. Penney. ''There were people bolting through the store. I couldn't believe it.''

Tim Farrell, the Penney's children's department manager, who waited on the president, said the encounter boosted his confidence.

''There won't be a customer I can't handle now,'' he said.

Dale Mangold, manager of Camelot Music, helped Barbara Bush pick out Puccini's LaBoheme on compact disc while other customers packed the mall outside the store. ''You couldn't even see out the door,'' he said.

Store cashier Rick Slezak said a Secret Service man paid for Mrs. Bush's purchase but that Mrs. Bush promised the agent the president would reimburse him.

Maridell Mason of Frederick was a few feet from Bush as he left Penney's.

''It's the closest I ever got to the president. I think it's neat for him to come out like this when people are shopping,'' she said.