By most standards, 1987 was a good year for business in the Washington area. For some companies and business segments, however, it was a year of turmoil, setbacks and uncertainty.

That was especially true for some old-line Washington companies that found themselves under pressure from tougher competition in their traditional markets.

And going into 1988, questions abound on the prospects for a quick and orderly reversal of last year's misfortunes, mistakes and surprises.

One of the more closely watched developments in local business this year will be the performance of Dart Drug Co. with Sheldon (Bud) Fantle at the reins.

If anyone can get Dart back on track, Fantle can. But Fantle began with a serious handicap when he bought controlling interest in the financially troubled company.

Fantle took over Peoples Drug Stores Inc. in the midst of a long decline several years ago, and turned it into an industry leader.

But the chain drug industry in the Washington market is experiencing a shakeout precipitated by nondrug retail competitors. Declining sales and earnings at Peoples in recent years reflected the upheaval.

Sharp differences over management of the chain resulted in a split between Fantle and Peoples' new owner, Imasco Ltd. of Canada.

At Dart, Fantle faces a formidable job in trying to turn around a company that was dangerously close to bankruptcy last year.

Increasingly stiff competition from supermarket chains and general merchandise stores will make the next 364 days difficult ones for Fantle and his new management team.

Stiffer competition also will dictate the course of banking in the area in 1988. Sentiment is building in Maryland for a change in the state's limited interstate banking law, permitting entry by banks from any state.

The imponderable is how much resistance to change there will be by Maryland's banking industry.

In the District, the big question is whether the banking industry will continue this year to resist approval of local bank charters for national companies. An even bigger question is whether the city council will back Mayor Barry or local bankers on the controversial issue.

The answer will depend on how serious city officials are in wanting to establish a major financial center in the District and how much competition local bankers are willing to accept.

As 1987 drew to a close, Riggs National Corp. was forced into making a couple of decisions that are certain to raise questions about the company's response to competition over the next several months.

In rapid succession last month, Riggs announced first that it had terminated negotiations to acquire Sunset Financial Corp. of Florida and that it will charge off more than $27 million in loans to lesser-developed countries while adding more than $21 million to its reserves for loan losses.

The increase in loan-loss reserves not only raises the total to $66 million but will result in a loss for last year's fourth quarter.

While those developments aren't catastrophic, they are seen as hindrances to Riggs' modest interstate banking plans.

The termination of talks in Florida raises almost as many questions about Riggs' interstate banking strategy as the initial decision to acquire a bank in Florida, where regional banking giants, such as North Carolina's NCNB Corp., have carved out strong market positions.

Once the Washington area's biggest banking organization, Riggs has been surpassed in its primary market the past couple of years by aggressive Maryland and Virginia bank companies with assets two to three times greater.

Riggs' Chairman Joe L. Allbritton assured stockholders in a statement last month that the company will report a "nominal" profit for the year and that its capital position remains strong.

The chairman of Columbia First Federal Savings and Loan began the year less certain about the direction his company will take as pressure to reconstitute the S&L's board increased.

This unexpected turn of events will provide the first real test of strength for Columbia First's management since the S&L went public two years ago.

Harold N. Goldsmith, Columbia First's largest individual shareholder, with 9.8 percent of the company's stock, is challenging management for control of the board.

At the same time, Columbia has attracted considerable interest from several major investors, including Diana Corp. of Milwaukee, which owns 9.7 percent of the stock.

It's possible that there won't be a proxy fight for control of Columbia First's board. But developments at Columbia First increase the chances of a takeover fight for control of the company.

The answer to at least one question about the S&L's future shouldn't be long in coming, because Columbia First holds its annual meeting later this month.