The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union may have spent as much as $2 million to organize employes at the Woodward & Lothrop department stores as part of a campaign to unionize retail workers throughout the metropolitan area.

Although union officials would not give specific cost figures, several persons inside and out of the union estimated the cost between $1 million and $2 million.

One professional union aide in the organizing campaign placed the final cost "in the range of a (United States) senatorial campaign."

Beyond the cost, however, both the union and Woodward & Lothrop Chairman Edwin K. Hoffman viewed the woodies campaign as the start of a major drive to organize other department stores in the metropolitan area.

"They didn't spend the kind of money they spent just for us," Hoffman yesterday after assessing the results of the Woodies election. Woodies employes voted overwhelmingly Thursday to throw out their independent union in favor of Local 400 of the Retail Store Workers Union, a subsidiary of the United Food union.

"This means the key to the city for us," Thomas McNutt, president of Local 400, said yesterday. He said his union's next priority will be to negotiate a new contract for Woodward & Lorthrop workers.

But McNutt said other organizing drives against area retailers would follow quickly. "We'll have to look at the rest of the field and see where we have the most interest," he said. "It looks like Hecht's is near the top of the list."

Other union officials listed Lord & Taylor and Garfinckels as other likely targets.

Union officials said much of the money and expertise in the Woodies election campaign was provided by the international union, which sent in more than 100 organizers and set up two downtown storefront campaign headquarters to dramatize its drive.

Leonard Kolodny, head of the retail bureau of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, conceded yesterday that the storefront headquarters "caused a bit of shock in the business community." But, he said, "by and large there is no nervousness in the business community. Retailers are not calling me up and wringing their hands in pain."

Allan J. Bloostein, president of Hect's, said that despite the situation at Woodies, his company "will continue to be the leader in retail wages and benefits regardless of whether our competitiors are or nonunion."

Jim McCullagh, regional vice president for Bloomingdales, said his company discussed the Woodies situation yesterday after hearing the election results, but he would not comment further.

"We're just switching unions," Hoffman said, acknowledging that Local 400 "is going to have a different philosophy" than the independent union that has represented the department store chain's workers for 38 years. CAPTION: Picture, Union members celebrate Thursday after winning Woodward & Lothrop election. By Lynn Allen for The Washington Post