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Protests are good business

 | May 19, 2012

A number of food traders with business smarts raked it in during Bersih 3.0, though a few certainly didn't.

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On the morning of April 28, many restaurants and stalls in parts of Kuala Lumpur were suddenly beset by thousands of yellow-shirted protesters. Motivated by hunger and waiting for the Bersih 3.0 sit-in rally to start, they quickly made a beeline for these places.

Scores of people were seen in the Chinatown area, politely lining up by the roadside in a bid to grab breakfast.

Some hawkers pushed trolleys laden with ice-cold water bottles and isotonic drinks through the crowds; a god-sent in the scorching weather.

By late morning, a McDonalds near the Kota Raya shopping centre was so heavily thronged that a cashier had to act as a temporary bouncer, letting patrons in and out the doors carefully.

It was good and brisk business for traders who chose to open that day, since most protesters went through their personal supplies in the blink of an eye.

No doubt, many of these businesses suffered after tear gas and water cannons were fired into the crowds later on.

Stores had to slam their shutters and close their doors, while hawkers had to lock their stalls when the police engaged with protesters in street battles over the next four hours.

There was a mess of spilled cendol on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, trampled by both citizens and the authorities alike.

Even so, quite a few eateries continued to operate even as tear gas clouds rolled down the streets.

A mamak restaurant near the Dang Wangi police station was jam-packed with people demanding drinks and fried noodles.

Business was good there, with servers feverishly selling packets of Teh-O-ais, Milo ais and whatnot to passersby (the writer included) who couldn’t find an empty chair to sit.

‘Barrels of beer sold’

Legend has it that a certain pub in the area even sold off several barrels-worth of beer to thirsty protesters wanting a reprieve from the day’s events.

Many a convenience store had barricaded their doors, though some cashiers were more than willing to hand over canned drinks for a few Ringgit through small openings.

Some mobile ice-cream sellers doled out orange-flavoured popsicles and Cornetto lookalikes, even as riot police gathered a few hundred metres away.

As the action died down towards the evening, stores began to re-open and hawkers went back to cooking.

They were of course visited by the thousands of hungry people lingering in the protest’s aftermath.

How many restaurant owners and hawkers found their businesses smashed and burned by looters that day? If there were any, we would have heard about it by now.

Of course, you can’t expect traders to not be apprehensive when tens of thousands of people march by their stores. Even more so when protesters fight with the police on the streets.

We’ve all heard stories of looters running amok in other countries, grabbing, breaking and burning where they can. But KL today is not the London or the Cairo of 2011. (Most) people here paid for their food on April 28, otherwise leaving businesses alone.

So what is this claim of hundreds of thousands of Ringgit that some traders supposedly lost?

If these burger-fryers showed a bit of business acumen, closed and opened their stalls at the right times, they would have walked away with something other than an alleged total loss.

But they chose not to, and decided that profits could be better made by frying for free in front of somebody’s house.


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