Subway merchants make hay in the winter, but do it illegally

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Subway merchants make hay in the winter, but do it illegally

On Dec. 6, a subway serviceman was seen tussling with a merchant who was selling gloves at around 4 p.m. at the Korea National University of Education Station in southern Seoul.

“Leave here before I call the police,” warned the public servant. The seller, who looked to be in his mid-40s, hurriedly packed up his goods and put them in a cart and soon left the spot along with two other merchants.

But their departure did not last long. The trio again took out their goods for sale after checking there were no authorities to intervene in their illegal business on a subway platform.

“When the weather is warm, we do our selling in a market outside. But when it’s as cold as it has been lately, we come to the subway,” one of the trio told the JoongAng Ilbo.

More and more merchants are flocking to subway platforms in recent weeks as winter clothes are gaining popularity among subway passengers.

Sellers push carts filled with seasonal goods such as scarves, earmuffs and gloves and move one place to another trying to avoid subway servicemen.

Selling goods in an open place in a subway station is illegal. If caught by the police, merchants are subject to a 30,000 won ($27.8) fine for misdemeanor.

But this time of year, with the temperature below zero degrees Celsius (32 degree Fahrenheit), is too good of a season to pass up.

“We refer to the period from December until mid-January as the ‘45-day special selling days,’?” said a 48-year-old merchant surnamed Park. “I have seen a seller who bragged about making 2.4 million won by selling over 200 pairs of gloves in a day.”

Those in the illegal business estimate there are about 200 such merchants in Seoul subway lines now.

The increased number of cases for illegal activities has led to more frequent instances of authorities’ hunting for those merchants.

During rush hour on Nov. 6, eight teams of merchants selling goods at the Korea National University of Education Station were spotted. One merchant selling gloves was seen moving to seven different spots at the station.

“I usually move from one place to another over 10 times a day trying not to get caught by subway guards,” said another merchant surnamed Park who sells leggings at Sindorim Station.

Public sentiment on the new business trend is somewhat in favor of the merchants. A college student surnamed Jeong said he wished authorities would ease up as they are trying to make a living.

But the subway provider Seoul Metro, which transports 3.9 million passengers daily in Seoul and Gyeonggi, made it clear it will continue the crackdown on the illegal businesses.

“I can’t help but wonder if they are really selling goods in subways to make a living when they make hundreds of thousands of won every day,” said a Metro official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A 60-year-old subway serviceman surnamed Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo he wants a raise of the currently set 30,000 won fine. He thinks “merchants are simply evading taxes by keeping their illegal business underground.”

By Lee Ga-hyeok [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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