Hong Kong police on Saturday interrupted the opening of a pop-up hardware store known to support anti-government protesters and searched the shop extensively without finding anything illegal.
At least 36 officers from the anti-triad squad of West Kowloon Police Station arrived at National Disaster Hardware on Cheung Sha Wan Road in Sham Shui Po on Saturday afternoon equipped with a search warrant obtained from court.
The hardware store, owned by Lee Ching-hei and two business partners, was the sixth pop-up shop the group had opened since August 3. The shops are known for selling gear to anti-government protesters at low prices. The other five shops were open for about one week.
The fifth pop-up store was closed in Sai Ying Pun on September 2, just days after it opened on August 31. Lee was arrested on August 31 along with six employees and a customer.
He was charged with supplying “offensive weapons”, including drain cleaner, spray cans, baseballs and a baseball pitching machine and fake press badges. The employees were released on bail on September 2.
The sixth shop opened in Cheung Sha Wan on Saturday at 3pm but was closed after police arrived at about 5pm.
Officers took up positions outside the shop and sealed off the pedestrian walkway to keep customers away. Several shopkeepers were frisked by police.
About 90 minutes later, the police officers left without finding any suspicious items.
“The police couldn’t find anything illegal because I am just selling tools to help protesters to protect themselves. None of theses items are weapons,” Lee said. “The location of my new shop is very good and safe. It is between two police stations – Prince Edward and Sham Shui Po.”
Lee joked that he might need to reopen the shop near Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Ying Pun.
Despite the police search, hundreds of customers visited National Disaster Hardware on Saturday. Many said they learned online about the location of the latest shop and had seen live streams of police investigating it.
The shop had stocked up with more than 1,000 pairs of upgraded filters, several thousand sets of goggles, and hundreds of different kinds of helmets, lights and other protest equipment.
Prices are very flexible, Lee said, because the shop offers students big discounts. The minimum price of a full-gear package, including a helmet, a pair of googles and mask with filter, costs HK$20 (US$2.50). Lee said the price had doubled from HK$10.
“I just bought some goggles, which the shopkeepers said just costs HK$10, but I paid them HK$100,” a 13-year-old customer from Kwun Tong told the Post.
“This is the only place for us to buy gear. The shop needs more funds to survive.”
Some middle-aged people were observed paying HK$500, HK$1,000 and even several thousands to shopkeepers – but only left the shop with a bottle of water.
Lee said the shop would not open on Sunday because most items were sold out. He said he would replenish his sop with equipment from the US, Canada and Southeast Asian countries – but not mainland China.