Street Vendors Find Protest Is the Best Business in Town

While the week-long opposition sit-in may be making some foreign investors and business leaders nervous, political unrest has proven to be a boon to those who have been feeding the hungry protesters.

From markets around Phnom Penh, noodle sellers, sandwich makers, and sugar-cane cart owners have converged on the blue tarpaulins of “Democracy Square”—and after months of slow sales, they say they are making more money than they imagined possible.

“I’m very happy because business is so good,” Thon Van said Monday, as he ground peppers for the spicy vegetable “som tam” salad he has been dishing out to customers. “As long as the demonstration continues I will be here every day.”

Thon Van arrived at the park Friday, after deciding there might be more customers at the park than in front of a Monivong Bou­levard clinic where he usually sells his salads.

On his first day, he said, he ran out of vegetables after four hours, forcing him to close up and go home with a take of about 70,000 riel ($18)—an amount it usually takes him a week to earn.

The teen-ager came back better prepared, and since then has been spending about 12 hours a day at the park.

“I’ve been selling for two years and recently business has been slow, but this is the best business I have ever had,” he said, as opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s voice boomed in the background.

Prum Sarany, who operates a sugar cane drink cart, was also lured to the park on Friday by the large crowds, and she said her daily earnings have more than tripled compared to the 7,000 riel ($1.80) a day she was making at a small market on Street 240.

The possibility of violence, she said, was a factor she weighed when making a decision to come to the park, but her fears have been mostly assuaged by the relatively calm atmosphere.

“I worry about violence,” she said, “but the money is good here.”

With the sun beating down on the tent city, drink vendors seem to be doing the best business. Hien Chy, who sells Coca-Cola and other soft drinks from his cart, said he has been raking in as much as 100,000 ($26) riel a day since he left his regular sales spot at O’Russei market.

For 39-year-old Hien Chy, though, making money is not his main priority.

“I support Sam Rainsy,” he said. “Even if the money was not so good, I just want to be here for the demonstration.”

 

 

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