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Small businesses try to survive around Amazon in Seattle as company changes remote work policy again

Sayed Salem, left, and Nasima Akhter in front of their Spice on Curve food truck in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood on Tuesday. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

While Amazon’s latest change to its back-to-office policy is likely good news for Seattle-based employees who have gotten used to remote work, Sayed Salem is suffering.

Sitting in his food truck Curved spiceServing authentic Indian cuisine in the heart of the Amazon on Tuesday, Salem said it has about 40 customers a day. Two years ago, I served between 250 and 300 people in a working day.

“How can we survive?” I ask.

Amazon said on Monday that instead of bringing employees back to the office in droves in early January, it will leave decisions to individual team leaders, with no strict expectations about the number of days those corporate employees work in the office. .

The tech giant’s remote work policy affects more than just its 50,000 corporate and tech employees in Seattle – it has repercussions for the food truck, flower shop, bike shop, burger joint, doggie treat store, cafe and other small stores that depend on the company. workforce to stay in business.

A “SLU & YOU” sign in front of one of the Amazon headquarters towers in Seattle. The South Lake Union neighborhood is still there, but many small businesses would like “you” to come back in the form of thousands of tech workers. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

Salem and his wife of 35 years, Nasima Akhter, have run Spice on Curve for seven years. Two weeks ago, his second truck was stolen from the lot where they park it. It was recovered, with $ 10,000 in damages.

Salem’s legs hurt when he has to stand for 15 to 16 hours, and he said help has been nearly impossible to find. Before the pandemic, I used to pay $ 12 an hour. Paying much more would add to the struggle you already face from rising ingredient costs and lost business.

“As a small business… we are not Amazon. How can we pay $ 25 an hour? It’s better to die, ”he said, adding that every time he talks to clients, he realizes that they want to go back to the office.

“But the big boss, they just expand it, because they have a new way: working from home,” he said. “They are making money, but what about the thousands of companies that really depend on Amazon?”

A dog receives a cookie from a Banana Stand worker that he clearly recognizes outside an Amazon office building in South Lake Union. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

At lunchtime, the streets around South Lake Union were definitely quieter than the usual bustling scene that has always attracted food trucks. But there were at least some people on the street and in nearby restaurants, unlike the harshest months of the health crisis. An Amazon worker grabbing a box of hot food was a regular in Salem’s truck. The latest change in Amazon’s official policy was not affecting its daily routine.

“I definitely like working in the office. It’s more of a separation from personal life, ”said the worker, adding that he prefers to work with his team in person.

Amazon’s latest remote work policy change underscores the uncertainty created by the continued spread of COVID-19, including the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant in recent months. Previously, Amazon established a “baseline” of three days a week at the office and two days working remotely, as part of its preference for an “office-centric” culture.

The company was planning a return to the office in September, then postponed the date to January 3, before Monday’s move.

Other companies have also been delaying their plans to bring employees back to the office. Microsoft, the region’s other tech giant, is leaving its return date open for now.

‘For the good of the neighborhood’

An empty common area Tuesday next to the Spheres and the Amazon Day 1 tower to the left. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

Like the food truck operator, the Downtown Seattle Association is concerned about small businesses, too.

The organization’s data says that more than 500 street-level business locations have been permanently closed throughout downtown since January 2020.

“It’s clear that many workers want to go back to spending their workday in dynamic urban neighborhoods like downtown Seattle, where they have access to arts and culture, sports and entertainment, and a great food scene,” said the President and DSA Executive Director Jon Scholes in a statement.

In a third-quarter commercial real estate report, Kidder Mathews said downtown retail “still relies on the thousands of office workers who frequent the vertical buildings.”

Countering the closures somewhat, DSA said nearly 300 new downtown street-level locations have opened since January 2020.

The Seattle Barkery It is one of them.

The small store that sells pet toys and treats, including the Bacon Pupcake, used to operate exclusively from trucks in Seattle. It opened its first physical store in April 2020, just in time for the pandemic. The location at the base of an Amazon tower seemed like the perfect place for what is typically a neighborhood overrun with dogs that are allowed in the workplace.

A sign shouts out to the missing masses outside the Wild Ginger restaurant. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

On Tuesday, a human customer and a dog were at the store. Owner Dawn Ford told GeekWire that Amazon’s changing policies are like a “hanging carrot” as she pleads, perhaps as one of her four-legged customers, for the workers to return.

“The neighborhood is busy, but Amazon is not busy,” Ford said. “We settled in the neighborhood and the pandemic pups were plentiful and it was a great blessing to us. But our initial sales targets are probably around 50%, so of course we’ve been waiting for Amazon to get back to work. “

Ford rents its space to Amazon, saying that while a lot of people don’t like the company, “they have been nothing more than generous to us.” The Barkery is in its 19th month of rental release, which Ford called “extremely wonderful.”

“These buildings are new and beautiful, we really expected them to be busy,” Ford said, adding that he appreciates that some workers have found convenience and comfort by working remotely.

“If it’s an option, I think it’s great, but I hope that for the sake of small businesses and the good of the neighborhood, I hope the option is that people decide to go back to work soon,” he said.

An Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire on Wednesday that since the start of the pandemic last year, the company has provided more than $ 16 million to more than 900 local small businesses in the Puget Sound region among its Small Help Fund. Neighborhood businesses and added rent relief.

The hustle and bustle among Amazon’s many office buildings continues to disappear as many thousands of workers remain remote. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

Based in Amsterdam VanMoof saw an initial jump in e-bike orders when it first launched a pop-up window and then opened a retail store under Amazon’s re: Invent tower. I even used one of the bikes to win the GeekWire “Great Race II” multimodal ride from the Spheres to West Seattle in July.

The location of the store on Amazon’s campus is noteworthy because the paying employees $ 89 per month Leasing a bike for a year through a special VanMoof program can be reimbursed through the tech giant’s bike commuter benefit.

Whether it’s the arrival of less bike-friendly weather or a lack of foot traffic passing through the store or supply issues related to the pandemic, business could improve, Deputy Director Kusha Akbarpour said. If employees “were driving to and from work, it would help,” he added, presumably because those employees would be so upset if they were sitting in Seattle’s once crushing traffic that they would want to switch to an electric bike alternative.

Inside the South Lake Union Bouquet on the Amazon headquarters campus. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

TO South Lake Union Flower BouquetIn front of the first Amazon Go convenience store, Lindsey Long was working behind the counter Tuesday and said business appears to have been steadily rebounding.

“Sending flowers is all you can do remotely,” Long said with a laugh. He also said that it seems more people are buying houseplants, remote workers? – and looking for advice on what types of plants are easy to keep alive.

The florist also has a location in the Columbia City neighborhood and opened in the Denny Triangle in 2019. During the height of the pandemic, it was a “ghost town,” Long said.

Shake Shack, in the shadow of the towers of Amazon headquarters in Seattle. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

TO Shake shack On Westlake Avenue, the usual Amazonian line was missing Tuesday. The New York-based burger joint opened in October 2018 and has been constantly busy ever since, with a line often outside the door.

A worker at the online order window said business continues to be good thanks to those who live in the neighborhood or visit on weekends. He said they do “a lot of orders from DoorDash and Grubhub.”

A sudden rush of customers at Monorail Espresso, across Westlake Avenue from Amazon. (Photo by GeekWire / Kurt Schlosser)

Monorail espresso it’s the stuff of Seattle coffee legend, founded in 1980 as the “world’s first espresso cart.” With a small location now on Westlake Avenue across from the Amazon towers, coffee is still a solid business in the city, but the pandemic and remote work gave their best.

“We were suffering a lot, but we survived,” said a barista named Millie who served drinks to a constant line of customers in the mid-afternoon, many of them wearing Amazon badges. “Are you doing business as usual?” he asked a gentleman.

PREVIOUSLY: Remote work is already changing Seattle on a permanent basis, a survey of tech workers indicates

Things got especially busy when a dozen men suddenly lined up in front of the store’s takeout window for a bite to eat. When GeekWire asked them if they were from out of town, they laughed and asked if it was obvious.

The group of real estate investors, representing various Chicago and New York companies, were in town to see how Seattle’s commercial and residential settings fared after the pandemic. “To see which cities feel the least dead,” was how one man put the group’s comparison of American markets.

And to see, more or less, whether or not it makes sense to invest, said another, as some in the group craned their necks at the office and apartment towers towering over the small cafeteria.

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