In the beginning there was Zippers. Then The Pants Corral, Britches, The General Store, Hecht's and, finally, Woodies all jumped into the fray.

The Great Levis Price War was on.

Local merchants started slash ing prices on Levi denim and corduroy pants about a week ago, and the jean scene in the Washington area has been a decidedly happy one ever since as bargain-hungry customers have overwhelmed local shops.

"We were packed Saturday and Sunday," said Paul Suplizio, store manager for The Pants Coral in Georgetown.

Suplizio said his shop, part of a local chain, took out newspaper advertisements and started a new sales jingle on the radio to tell buyers that the Levis The Pants Corral normally sells for $16 to $17 could now be bought for $11 to $12.

The Pants Corral and most of the other stores announced the price changes - which vary by a few dollars from store to store - last Thursday in an effort to stay competitive with a brand new, upstart of a shop called Zippers.

That stores, located a mile east of Tysons Corner in Virginia, just opened a little more than a week ago and was quite frankly, looking to get noticed.

It worked.

"Everybody sells Levis at a lot more," said Zippers manager Mike Albert, "and we knew we would draw in customers with lower prices. We're crowded every day."

Levi corduroys and denims are being sold at Zippers for $11 and $11.50, respectively, and the store - which is not part of any chain - is doing an immense business, ALbeet said.

The price war is keeping lots of other stores on their merchandising toes as weel, with each shop vowing to stay competitive.

"The Pants Corral has always been on top as far as the area is concerned, and we want to stay that way," said Suplizio, who noted the price war is attracting a sizeable back-to-schoold shopping clientele.

Joseph Novalis, store manager at Britches Western in Georgetown, said Levis products have always had very stable prices "and people knew when stores started reducing them."

Novalis said Britches saw the price cutting trend "coming across the country" and actually started lowering store prices a few weeks ago "so we would capitalize on it quicker than anyone else."

Once Zippers opened, Novalistsaid, "everyone started slashing prices. We're probably the highest now."

Britches charges $12.50 to $14.75 for its Levi pants, depending on style and material, but is thinking about lowering its prices still further to match its competitors.

Even at the current prices, Novalis said, the store " is not making nay profit on these items. We just hope they come into the store and buy something else."

At Woodward & Lothrop, which did not start advertising cheaper Levis until Saturday, a store buyer for the boys division said the decision had been made "painfully."

"It's painful, but Woodies always meets the prices of the competition," said Elcanor Balaban. "We feel we owe it to the customers."

Levis at the downtown Woodies store yesterday had red lines marked through the old prices, and customers were pleased with the new price tags.

"The price (of Levis) has been outrageous, and I just popped in to see if it's true there's been a reduction," said Glen Stephens, a Woodies' customer who lives in Virginia. "If I can find my size, I'm going to buy."

Janice Smith was buying her 12-year-old son, Albert, some clothes for an upcoming trip. She included Levis on her shopping list after discovering "they are definitely cheaper than they usedto be."

One shopper who wasn't impressed with the $9.99 sales price for boy's Levi pants was Eastern King. She said she recently bought some cheaper jeans made by "Tough Skins" at Sears "and they last a lot longer than these here."

No one could estimate yesterday just how long area buyers will benefit by the Levi price war. A spokesman at Zippers said the pants - which retail for $9.98 in California where they are manufactured - are being sold at what the store considers "permanent prices."

A survey of several area stores showed that the basic Levi "flared denim" pant is selling for $14.95 at Britches Western, $11.50 at The Pants Corral, $11.50 at Zippers, $10.99 at Woodies and the Hecht Co. and 9.98 at The General Store, 2424 18th ST.N.W.