What's wrong with "fast food" in the neighborhood? That more than 1 million local customers purchased hamburgers, fried chicken and the like last month is ample evidence that noth

The popularity of these places is not the only plus, though. Convenience restaurants are also sources of employment for young people. In the District of Columbia alone this industry provides more than 4,000 jobs, 95 percent of which are held by minorities who live near their place of employment. And a significant number of these are untrained workers entering the labor force for the first time -- just the sort of work our elected officials as well as private citizens solicit and support.

Convenience restaurants provide other economic benefits as well. In addition to more than $10 million they raise in annual city tax revenues and the many voluntary contributions they make in support of community activities, many serve as economic anchors in neighborhood commercial centers. Both shoppers and commercial offices are attracted to areas where convenient food and beverages are available.

In fact, the District of Columbia Office of Planning has found that convenience restaurants are not "nuisances" but inexpensive places "widely patronized by citizens, providing jobs and economic multipliers."

Critics of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores complain that they attract traffic, noise and litter. But since traffic, noise and litter detract from the convenience customers demand, these restaurants make substantial efforts to solve their problems. If one restaurant fails to do so, offended customers take their business elsewhere. Strong competition inspires the fast-food industry to keep its customers satisfied, which means being a good neighbhor.

Residents who complain about fast food invading their neighborhoods would do well to remember that not all franchises are alike. They vary according to name, product, location, management and responsiveness to the community.

With the growing popularity of fast food, the convenience restaurant industry, together with other businesses, has an interest and a responsibility to work with government and community leaders to minimize problems related to urban commercial development. Yes, residents can work with the fast-food industry, not against it.