Dart Drug Stores Inc. Chairman Stephen J. Hansbrough yesterday said his company's successful financial restructuring over the weekend was "not a panacea" for its problems.

However, the action "was a prerequisite for the long-range plans of ultimately being successful," he said in a press conference.

"The jury's still out" on Dart's long-range success, Hansbrough said, but he added that the refinancing -- completed late Friday night -- is "a landmark occurrence ... . a watershed achievement" for the 81-store chain.

Under the refinancing, 82.5 percent of Dart's creditors, including bondholders and a major note holder, swapped the high-yield bonds and notes for a combination of lower-rate bonds and stock to help the chain reduce its massive debt and annual interest payments.

As a result, Dart cut its yearly interest payments from $28 million to $13 million, and its negative net worth of nearly $40 million immediately turned into a net worth of $4.8 million. Net worth is defined as assets minus liabilities.

"This gives us the opportunity to put Dart's {strategy} into place -- to make it a people, not a product-oriented company."

In the past, Hansbrough said, Dart made its reputation by selling drugstore merchandise at discount prices. While planning to keep this competitive edge, Dart now hopes to gain customers by making Dart a more pleasant place to shop, by remodeling stores, installing computerized check-out systems and improving employe morale. "Self-image is important," he said.

Meanwhile, Hansbrough said, Dart will continue to keep an eye out for the drugstore's "biggest enemy" -- the food-store chain where consumers shop once a week, about twice as often as they visit a drugstore.

In light of increased competition from Giant Food Inc., Safeway Stores Inc. and the other area drugstore chains, including Peoples Drug Store Inc. and Rite-Aid, which just bought Gray Drug Fair, he said Dart will try to distinguish itself by "increasing the emphasis" on its general merchandise -- the seasonal goods, hard lines and automotive merchandise, which accounts for about 70 percent of Dart's business.

Dart's financial woes stem primarily from the $160 million sale of the chain in 1984 by the stores' founder, Herbert Haft, to the management team that was then running the stores.

"We purchased the company at a very high price," Hansbrough said yesterday. "There was no room for downturn," which in fact occurred last summer. As a result, the company was forced into a refinancing plan.

There was "absolutely no question" that Dart would have filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws had the refinancing failed, Hansbrough said.

In fact, he said, the company had considered filing for Chapter 11 protection before coming up with its debt-exchange plan "as a defensive ploy ... . but that wasn't consistent with our business philosophy."

Instead, Dart asked the holders of its 12.7 percent $160 million bonds to exchange each $1,000 bond for a new package of securities with a face value worth about $1,000. The package consists of a $500 bond that will bear an initial 6 percent rate and increase 1.1 percent at every semiannual interest payment as of 1990.

Additionally, bondholders would get 24 shares of common stock, estimated to be worth about $3.50 a share, and 40 shares of preferred stock, each convertible into 1.3 shares of common stock.

Dart's largest creditor, Equitable Life Insurance Co. of the United States, which held a $25 million note, was also asked -- and agreed -- to swap its note for the new package of securities.

Dart had hoped that 85 percent of its bondholders would exchange their bonds, but only 82 percent complied. The shortfall, Dart said, was due to bondholders wanting to hold out for the higher interest rate.

An 85 percent return would have been "nirvana," Hansbrough said. But he said the 82 percent is adequate to restore the company to financial health