Paris Cafés Speak on Yellow Vest Protests

Chaotic videos of protesters in neon yellow construction vests, combating authorities, setting fires in the streets, and bashing in store front windows have been seen the world over on cable news and social media feeds alike. One such video includes the ransacking of a Starbucks in central Paris, while another shows the aftermath of the protest—broken windows and spray-painted political messages scrawled on the exterior of the building.

What began back in November as protests loosely focused on rising fuel taxes and high cost of living throughout the country, has evolved into weekly, often violent, skirmishes in Paris’ renowned Champs-Elysees district. It’s difficult to identify what the protesters are demonstrating against, but Reuter’s points to a general challenge against President Macron and the entire French government’s authority.

Fresh Cup recently checked in with café owners across the city to hear their own experiences of the protests and how their businesses, employees, and customers have been affected.

“None of my colleagues or customers feel unsafe,” says Thomas Lehoux of La Fontaine de Belleville. “The only place where you can risk something is if you are in a demonstration at two at night and you might get hurt between the cops and the violent strikers. But other than that, [it] is pretty safe.”

Lehoux also mentions that none of the 150 clients that he supplies roasted beans to have experienced any major damages to business, beyond scared tourists.

Nico Alary of Holybelly echoed Lehoux’s sentiment.

“We did feel a bit of a slowdown, but nothing too serious,” he says. “I haven’t put a number on it, but I would say about ten to fifteen percent, that’s just a gut feeling. Which is a shame really because nothing really happened on this side of Paris. It was concentrated on the Left Bank, and we’re on the Right Bank. It never really ever got close to us.”

“The yellow jacket thing is not a massive movement as you might think seeing the news,” notes KB Caféshop owner Nicolas Piegay. “The safety issue is not strictly related to the yellow jacket but it’s unfortunately what happens now when there are protests in France some anarchist bands that we call ‘casseurs’ or breakers just join the mess to wreck everything they can. And as we don’t dare to send the army yet against them it goes sometimes out of control.”

And what do the owners think of Yellow Vest movement itself?

“I’m urging the Yellow Vests to be less hot-headed,” says Alary. “I feel like they’re feeling empowered because we’ve given them a lot of attention, and all this attention has given them a self that is too much…I think they are almost blocking themselves from any negotiation although the solution to this crisis lies in negotiation. It’s a shame that they feel so self-important that they can’t talk to anyone, and whatever is brought to them is never enough. I understand their request for change, but I believe change has been done on both sides. There’s no magic wand. Emmanuel Macron has a lot of power in his hands, but you also have a responsibility toward making your life better.”

“Just get together around the table and negotiate a better deal for the poor and poor workers,” urges Channa Galhenage of Café Loustic. “Increasing petrol or other taxes hits the poor the hardest and business second. Putting small business at risk ultimately puts jobs at risk.”

With additional reporting by Lacey Gibson.