For over a month, protesters have flocked to the area each Saturday to protest against Park, giving the merchants an unexpected boost in sales.
“Honestly, it is good. I can make a living thanks to the weekly protests,” a street vendor told The Korea Herald last Saturday while serving hot snacks to protesters. “It is not easy to find a spot where a million people gather.”
On Saturday, approximately 1.5 million South Koreans occupied the eight-lane boulevard of Sejongdaero from Seoul City Hall, through Gwanghwamun Square and along the front of Gyeongbokgung.
It was the fifth massive rally against President Park since the influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil surfaced in late October. Rally organizers have put the total number of participants at over 4 million across the country for the past month.
|A merchant sells candles at Gwanghwamun Square Seoul, Saturday. (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)|
Cafes and restaurants were filled with people seeking hot coffee and quick eats, with many waiting in line for several minutes to pay or use the restroom.
“Cafes are so crowded and noisy during rallies. Our sales saw a 1.5-fold surge. Many protestors order hot drinks due to the cold weather,” said Seo Dan-bi at a Paul Bassett near City Hall. “We have an additional employee now to serve customers during weekend rallies.”
|An Angel-in-us cafe in Gwanghwamun is filled with protesters on Saturday afternoon (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)|
“So many people visited our restaurant today. We are out of rice. I am sorry!” said a seafood restaurant owner near Gwanghwamun Square at around 8 p.m. during the Nov. 12 rally.
On the streets and benches in the area, rally participants sat in groups eating cup noodles, fried chicken, kimbap and prepackaged meals.
“We see long lines of protestors trying to buy bottled water, beer and cigarettes during rallies. Total sales have increased nearly fourfold these days, compared to last year,” said a 60-year-old owner of a 7-Eleven Store near Gyeongbokgung.
According to GS Retail, which runs the GS25 convenience store chain, its 20 stores in the Gwanghwamun area saw their sales nearly triple on Nov. 12, when some 1 million people gathered, compared to a year earlier. Sales at 7-Eleven nearly doubled during the same period.
According to BGF Retail, which operates CU, its sales of candles increased nearly fourfold from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 across the country, compared to the same period a year earlier. Its sales in paper cups and soju also rose by 32 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
Hotel businesses are also booming as some people traveling from other provinces to join the rallies in Seoul book places to stay for the night.
“Though it is not peak season for hotels, our rooms have been fully booked,” said Choi Ji-won, who works at a reception desk at a four-star hotel in central Seoul.
“We don’t normally get many Korean guests, but we had many of them on Saturdays for the past month. Most of the Koreans came to participate in the rally.”
But some businesses like department stores appear to have taken a hit from the downtown rallies due to the inconvenience caused by the crowds.
Sales at Shinsegae Department Store’s flagship store in Myeong-dong, where streets have been partially cleared for protestors on Saturdays, dropped by 7 percent from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20, compared to a year earlier.
“Shops are not so crowded every Saturday. It seems like customers give up on visiting department stores due to poor traffic conditions,” an official from the department store was quoted as saying.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jo He-rim contributed to this article –Ed.