- (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters have a new group of people who disagree with what they are doing: the street vendors who work in the park that is being occupied. Although the protest has had an adverse effect on local vendors, the occupation has been a boon for other local eateries.
In what could be billed as a twist of irony, the halal truck vendors, hot dog cart guys, and even the organic, local farm produce sellers are being adversely affected by the hundreds of activists protesting economic corruption affecting the American people.
Zuccotti Park, which is serving as the main control center for the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, is usually a popular spot for office and construction workers as well as tourists visiting Wall Street and Ground Zero, which is located roughly two blocks away.
However, the park has been entirely transformed in recent weeks, with protesters haven taken. Instead of pigeons perched on sitting areas, there are dreadlocked teenagers playing guitar, bearded, middle-aged hippies napping on makeshift mattresses and young, energetic activists armed with laptops, cameras, and quick-fire explanations of why you should close your account at Bank of America or tell your congressman to outlaw "fracking."
With such a dramatic transformation, office and construction workers seeking solace in Zuccotti Park have largely visiting the scenic area on their breaks, which means, they are buying morning coffee and afternoon lunches elsewhere.
Ali, who runs a hot dog stand adjacent to Zuccotti Park, took a deep breath and looked away when The Christian Post asked how business has been doing as a result of the protest.
"Very bad," he said, slightly raising his voice. "Nobody comes. They don’t buy anything," he added, nodding to the protesters. "Who's going to pay my rent? Who's going to pay my bills? For two weeks, I don't make money."
When asked how much business he has lost, Ali estimated he has lost over $1,000 since the beginning of the protest on September 17.
Lapsang Norbu, of Red Jacket Orchard, which sells fruits, fresh juices, and baked goods on Tuesdays in the park, says he has been missing the tourists who pass through Zuccotti Park on their way to tourist sites.
"We have lots of our regular customers, but no tourists," he told CP.
Meredith's Bakery sets up shop in the park to sell baked goods. According to Panang, a small, quiet woman who was bundled up as she stood outside, running the stand, many of her regular customers are office workers who come by on their breaks.
"But very little office people have been coming by," she said. "Business has been down."
Panang is not the only vendor who is missing regular customers.
"Most of my normal customers don’t come anymore," Adel Saad, who helps manage several coffee and halal food trucks in the area, told The Christian Post. "A few regulars still come, but not really."
Saad said that the number of protesters sleeping near the carts in the morning is a turn-off for customers, who would rather just go elsewhere for their coffee or sandwich.
When asked if the protesters ever buy anything, Saad just shrugged. "Not really," he said. "They have their own food. They get it for free."
The food protesters have been consuming during their weeks-long stay in Zuccotti Park is not exactly free, as Saad suggested, the protesters just are not the ones paying for it.
Many of the protesters have been who have been camping in the park have been relying on donated food. In the middle of the park Tuesday afternoon, a buffet was set up where people were invited to enjoy free salad, pizza, chips, and trail mix. Bottled water, tea and juices were also available, free of charge.
"People just give us food to help us out," said one protester who asked not to be named. When asked where the food came from, he said he did not know. "But it shows they want to help," he said, alluding to the mysterious benefactors.
On the "Occupy Wall Street" website, there is a list of suggested places to call if anyone wants to donate food to the protesters. The list includes locally-owned Mexican, Thai, Italian, and pizza restaurants, which has made it easy for people who sympathize with the protesters to show support by sending in food.
Some of the restaurants have not experienced an increase in business, such as Panini & Co., who told CP that the business has received a few requests, and many of them from people who wished not to be identified or tried to use credit card numbers that were declined.
"[The protest] would be good for business if the people would tell me who they were," said the Panini & Co. manager, who asked not to be named.
However, other restaurants have benefited from the protest.
Tolache Taqueria also said they have received a few orders, including a big $350 order over the weekend, so business has been a little better.
However, Liberato's Pizza said the protest has had positive effects on business. Owner Telly Liberato said the influx of orders was a welcome change, "especially after such a quiet summer," he told CP.
Liberato has even put out a special cheese and pepperoni pizza for protesters, aptly named the "Occu-Pie," which is featured on the "Occupy Wall Street" website and has been ordered for protesters from supporters all over the country. "I designed the pizza myself and they just loved it over there," Liberato said.
Liberato said he reduced the prices on some of his products because he knows a lot of people are going through some tough times financially and he wanted to help out.
"I'm not involved with the protest," Liberato said. "But I'm glad to see people are using their First Amendment rights to speak out."
The "Occupy Wall Street" protest, which has a wide array of goals and messages but is largely focus on the current economic condition in the country, has had varying effects on different people, but one t-shirt vendor in Liberty Park said the protesters have not changed anything for him.
"Business has been down long before they showed up," he said. "It's been bad for a while. Not just now."