Smart monitoring of the needs of the protestors demonstrating against the government’s redevelopment project of Gezi Park have opened up windows full of opportunities to individual entrepreneurs and vendors as they quickly mobilized to make profits at the protests held in many provinces of the country over the last week.
Only couple of days ago, a man in his early 20s was quietly announcing “Taksim, Taksim” — the center of the protests in İstanbul — near his minivan parked on a main street in the Bahçelievler district while his friend sat in the driver’s sea When approached and asked what he was doing, he shied away at first but then told Today’s Zaman, “We are just trying to make our bread.” He explained that he and a friend have been driving protestors from suburban districts of İstanbul to Taksim Square, somehow managing to provide a pirate cab service at a cheaper price than regular cab fares.
This is only one example of how the protests have provided these entrepreneurs with possibilities to make money. One of the hottest items for sale at Gezi Park in Taksim since the first day of the protests were gas masks to protected people from the tear gas sprayed by riot police. Most of the hardware stores ran out of gas mask, which were being sold for TL 2.5, and those unable to find one rushed to street vendors who were selling the same masks, initially sold as three for TL 5, at TL 5 each. In the meantime, professional gas masks were sold at TL 300.
Food vendors probably made the most profits out of all of the vendors as endless customers swarmed around the sellers of meatball subs, watermelon, orange juice, corn and çiğköfte, a traditional dish made with bulgur wheat and spices. As many food places closed due to clashes between riot police and some protestors in the early days of the protest, the few buffets left made record high sales. In addition, many people flocked to street vendors to feed their hunger. A slice of watermelon was priced at TL 5 and the price of meatball subs rose by 50 percent from TL 5 to TL 7.5.
Sellers of tavuk pilav — a mix of rice and chicken — are also present among the vendors in Taksim. However, as their numbers increased, the price of a tavuk pilav plate went down from TL 5 to TL 3.5.
According to stories published by media outlets, scarves, underwater goggles, gloves, whistles and Turkish flags, among other items, were also heavily purchased by the protestors. The price of scarves which are used to avoid inhaling tear gas starts from TL 15, while the average price of flags is TL 20.
However, as some have tried to turn the protests into ultra-nationalist propaganda, these entrepreneurs, who never miss out on an opportunity, also began selling all sorts of items from flags to jigsaw puzzles carrying the picture of the country’s founding father — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Some vendors talented at reading the motives of certain dimensions of the protests are now all over the country’s city centers, on overpasses, public transportation, and sidewalks, selling items unrelated to the protests but which have Atatürk on them, stirring the sensibilities of people and contributing to the drama between seculars and conservatives.