One of the rare wonders of nature Jakartans can still observe in their beloved city is the swarms of moths fluttering around lights after a rainy evening.
But Jakarta is also home to a human version of this, as urbanites have taken a fancy to hanging out in front of bright neon-lit 24-hour convenience stores and cafes, like moths to light.
The area around Sarinah mall in Thamrin, Central Jakarta, with its many coffee joints and fast food places, is one that comes to mind when people want to meet up without having to worry about being kicked out of establishments late at night.
Kemang, South Jakarta, with its clubs and restaurants and East Jakarta’s Tebet with its indie clothing stores and small restaurants are other options for late night rendezvous.
But aside from 24-hour restaurants, there are now new hangouts proliferating around the city: 24-hour 7-Eleven convenience stores.
The biggest global chain in the world from Japan, which entered Indonesia in 2009, has been expanding in full force with 21 stores in Jakarta alone as of now.
And sure enough, Jakartans are lapping up the store’s slurpees (7-Eleven’s signature frozen carbonated drink) and do-it-yourself hotdogs.
Parking attendants are busy directing a constant flow of cars coming and going from the 7-Eleven corner in Menteng, Central Jakarta, until wee hours of the morning, almost every weekend. Small traffic jams form under the saturated yellow hue of the streetlight. 7-Eleven customers can be seen drinking, smoking and playing cards at the tables provided.
So what is the appeal of hanging out in a convenience store? 7-Eleven regular Andi Annas, a 25-year-old account executive at a magazine, said he had been to almost every 7-Eleven store in Jakarta.
“The atmosphere is different. The concept is similar to Circle K’s, but the products sold are different. There is a self-service snacks counter… They sell slurpees, Coca Cola — they also offer a variety of coffee and hot chocolate. I enjoy that,” he said.
“The place has tables and chairs so people can hang out. It’s nice to chat with friends, and hang out in the center of town. The products [sold] are affordable and we can make up our own food and drinks,” he said over the phone.
Some of the places also have power outlets so customers can charge their mobile phones, laptops and use Wi-Fi for free, he added.
Annas said his long working hours made it impossible for him to see his friends during the day, so 24-hour 7-Elevens had become his favorite meeting spot.
“We never plan our get-togethers. We usually arrange them at the last minute, by SMS, or on Twitter, Facebook or BBM [BlackBerry messenger],” he said. “Once 20 of us met at 7-Eleven.”
Annas never liked 24-hour restaurants, so before discovering 7-Eleven, he would hang out in the parks like Menteng or Suropati.
“I don’t like having to have to buy something to sit in a restaurant. And I feel uneasy if I stay there too long,” he said.
His favorite 7-Eleven branch is the one next to the BCA tower at Grand Indonesia shopping mall.
There, he can indulge in his favorite past time: people watching. And there is always something interesting to observe at this branch, which seems to attract a wide variety of people, he went on.
“ABG [Anak Baru Gede: youngster] come from the afternoon until night time; A bit later, office workers will drop by after work; later into the night, young adults will come,” he said.
Annas said he saw different cliques claiming spaces in 7-Eleven.
“Once I was there. It was around 8:30 at night. [The visitors] were so diverse. There were straight couples inside. There were junior high school kids and high school kids outside, who wanted to look like grownups. Next to them sat gay men and lesbians.”
According to Annas, people think of 7-Eleven as a hip spot.
Urban expert Johannes Frederik Warouw from the University of Indonesia said the emergence of 24-hour hangout places like 7-Eleven could be likened to “cozy corners”.
“This tends to happen in metropolitan cities with large spaces, in cities that have many development areas, with several business districts,” he said.
Business owners look at setting up these cozy corners in high-density strategic areas. “They chose places that are both residential and business-oriented,” he explained.
These places are also usually located in two-way roads. “If it’s in a one way street, it will only live for half a day.”
Business owners, Johannes went on, have been cunning at reading the public’s need for public spaces. The 24-hour convenience store is a public space provided by commercial entities, he went on.
Indonesia has had minimarkets for a while, long before 7-Elevens began popping up everywhere.
Some of these local minimarkets are also open 24 hours, such as Alfamart, which has 4,700 stores in Indonesia, and more than half in Jakarta. Indomaret had 4,626 stores as of September 2010 with almost 500 outlets in Jakarta.
Let’s not forget Circle K, Starmart, Yomart and AMPM’s 24-hour convenience stores.
However, using convenience-store spaces as a hangouts did not really take off until 7-Eleven and its dedicated tables and chairs.
It seemed this trend is likely to catch on in other Javanese cities as publicly listed Modern Internasional has increased the capital for its subsidiary Modern Putra Indonesia, the franchise holder to develop the 7-Eleven chain in Java.
Modern Putra Indonesia spokesperson Neneng Sri Mulyati declined to comment on the matter because she was on leave.
Johannes highlighted that the difference between 7-Eleven and other traditional 24-hour establishments was the former was selling more than products and services. “It’s selling an identity as well,” he said.
The convenience store has grasped city dwellers’ need to create an image and socialize. “There’s a shift from [selling] utility to selling pride,” he said.
“People go there to socialize but also to see and be seen.”
Annas thinks hanging out at 24-hour convenience stores may end up just being a fad. The 7-Eleven hype has become a victim of its own success, he went on. “The place is now crowded and there are traffic jams around the area.”
Johannes believes the trend is likely to stay if owners can continue to create a demand for these types of places.
But not all Jakartans have succumbed to potter the night away at 7-Eleven stores. For Mono Manata, convenience stores are “ABG clubs”.
“I don’t find it nice to hang out in a convenient store. The tables and chairs are not that comfortable either,” said Mono.
He does however, need a 24-hour place to hang out. He prefers Oh lala at the Djakarta Theater, opposite Sarinah Mall. The coffee shop was a symbolic part in his and his wife’s relationship when the two were still dating.
“We both worked crazy hours so the only time we could catch up was at night, after work,” he said. The two would talk until morning at Oh la la.
“I think places like that get more crowded around 3 or 4 a.m, when people look for something to eat after clubbing,” he said.
For Mono, a good hangout has to have good couches.
“I think it’s a necessity for people living and working in a big city,” he said. He hopes more cozy coffee shops will open 24 hours.
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Lifestyle | Mon, January 31 2011