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

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Syed Salem, left, and Naseema Akhtar in front of their food truck Spice on the Curve in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood on Tuesday. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

While Amazon’s latest change to its return-to-office policy is welcome news for Seattle-based employees who have become accustomed to remote work, Syed Salem is suffering.

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sitting in your food truck spice on the curve, serving authentic Indian cuisine in the heart of Amazonia on Tuesday, Salem said it has around 40 customers a day. Two years ago he was serving 250 to 300 people on a workday.

“How can we survive?” He asked.


Amazon said on Monday it would leave the decision up to individual team leaders instead of bringing employees back to the office in early January, with no hard-and-fast hopes on the number of times those corporate employees work in the office.

The tech giant’s remote work policy affects more than 50,000 of its corporate and tech employees in Seattle – this has consequences for the food truck, florist, bike shop, burger joint, dog treat store, coffee spot and other smaller shops that the company are dependent on. workforce to stay in business.

An “SLU&U” sign in front of one of Amazon’s headquarters towers in Seattle. The South Lake Union neighborhood is still there, but many small businesses want “you” to come back in the form of thousands of tech workers. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)
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Salem and his 35-year-old wife Naseema Akhtar have been running Spice on Curve for seven years. Two weeks ago, his second truck was stolen from the same place where he had parked it. It was recovered, with a loss of $10,000.

When Salem has to stand for 15 or 16 hours, his leg hurts, and he says it’s almost impossible to get help. Before the pandemic he was paid $12 an hour. Paying too much will add to the struggle it is already facing with increased material cost and loss of business.

“As a small business… we’re not Amazon. How can we pay $25 an hour? Better to be dead,” he said, adding that whenever he talks to customers he finds in the office want to come back.

“But Bigg Boss, they escalate it, because they have found a new way – work from home,” he said. “They’re making money, but what about the thousands of businesses that really depend on Amazon?”

A dog receives a biscuit from a banana stand worker she clearly recognizes outside the Amazon office building in South Lake Union. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

At lunchtime, the streets around South Lake Union were decidedly quieter than the usual bustling scene, which has always attracted food trucks. But unlike the hardest months of the health crisis, there were at least a few people on the street and in nearby restaurants. There was an Amazon employee regularly grabbing a box of hot food in Salem’s truck. The latest change in Amazon’s official policy was not affecting her routine.

“I definitely like working in the office. It is more isolation from personal life,” said the worker, adding that he prefers to work personally with his team.

Amazon’s latest remote work policy change underscores the uncertainty arising from the ongoing spread of COVID-19, which has included an increase in the highly contagious Delta version in recent months. Previously, Amazon had set a “baseline” of three days a week at the office, and two days working remotely, as part of its preference for an “office-focused” culture.

The company was shooting a return to office in September, and then pushed the date to January 3 before the Monday move.

Other companies are also pushing back on their plans to bring employees back to the office. Microsoft, the other tech giant in the sector, is leaving its return date open for the time being.

‘For the Neighborhood’

Areas and an empty common area left Tuesday next to the Amazon Day 1 tower. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

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

Data from the organization says that more than 500 street-level business locations across the city have been permanently closed since January 2020.

John Scholes, DSA’s president and CEO, said in a statement, “It’s clear that many workers want to spend their work days in dynamic, urban areas like downtown Seattle, where their arts and culture, sports and entertainment, and a great meal can be enjoyed.” There is access to the scene.” Statement.

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

Offsetting the closures slightly, the DSA said that since January 2020, about 300 new street-level locations were opened in downtown.

Seattle Barkery is one of them.

The small shop selling pet toys and treats, including bacon puffcakes, operated exclusively from trucks in Seattle. It opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in April 2020 – in the time of the pandemic. The location at the base of the Amazon tower seemed like the perfect spot for a neighborhood typically up-and-coming with dogs allowed in the workplace.

A sign board shouts for missing people outside the Wild Ginger restaurant. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

There was a human customer and a dog in the shop on Tuesday. Owner Don Ford told GeekWire that Amazon’s shifting policies are like a “dangerous carrot” as it begs, perhaps like one of its four-legged customers, for workers to return.

“The neighborhood is busy, but this Amazon isn’t busy,” Ford said. “We established ourselves in the neighborhood and the pups of the pandemic were plentiful and were quite a blessing to us. But our initial sales targets are probably around 50%, so we’re definitely waiting for Amazon to get back to work. “

Ford rented its space from Amazon and said that while many people don’t love the company, “they’re nothing but generous to us.” The Barkery fare is in its 19th month of release, which Ford called “extremely amazing.”

“These buildings are brand new and gorgeous, we were really hoping they would be occupied,” Ford said, adding that she appreciates the convenience and comfort some workers have found working remotely. .

“If it’s an option, I think that’s great, but I hope for small business and for the sake of the neighborhood, I hope the choice is that people choose to go back to work soon,” she said. said.

The bustle is still missing among many of Amazon’s office buildings as thousands of workers live away. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Amsterdam based vanmoof Electric bicycle orders saw an initial surge when it first launched a pop-up and then opened a retail shop beneath Amazon’s re:invent tower. I used a bike to conquer Geekwire’s multimodal transportation “Great Race II” from the regions to West Seattle back in July.

The store’s location on the Amazon premises is notable because the paying employees $89 per month Renting a bike for a year through a special VanMoof program can be reimbursed through the tech giant’s Bicycle Commuter Benefit.

Assistant manager Kusha Akbarpur said whether it is the arrival of less bike-worthy weather or the lack of foot traffic passing through the shop or supply issues related to the pandemic, business could be doing better. If employees were “driving to and from work, it would help,” he said, possibly because those employees would be so annoyed sitting in Seattle’s once soul-crushing traffic that they would want to switch to the e-bike option. Would like

Inside the South Lake Union bouquet on the Amazon headquarters complex. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Feather South Lake Union BouquetLindsey Long, formerly from the Amazon Go convenience store, was working behind the counter on Tuesday and said that it looks like the business continues to grow.

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

The florist also has a location in the Columbia City neighborhood and opened in 2019 in the Denny’s Triangle. It was a “ghost town down here” during the height of the pandemic, Long said.

Shake Shack in the shadow of Amazon’s headquarters towers in Seattle. (Geekwire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Feather shake Shack The usual line of Amazonians was missing Tuesday on Westlake Avenue. The New York-based burger joint opened in October 2018 and has been consistently busy ever since, with frequent lines out the door.

Business goes well, said a worker at the walk-up window for online orders, those who live in the neighborhood or come on weekends. She said they order “a ton of DoorDash and Grubhub.”

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

monorail espresso Coffee is the stuff of legend in Seattle, founded in 1980 as “the world’s first espresso cart.” With a small location now on Westlake Avenue across from the towers of Amazon, coffee is still a solid business in the city – but the pandemic and remote working took its best shot.

“We tried hard, but we survived,” said a barista named Millie, who was serving drinks in the middle of the afternoon to a steady line of customers, many wearing Amazon badges. Are you?” he asked a gentleman.

Earlier: Remote work is already permanently changing Seattle, tech worker survey indicates

Things got especially busy when a dozen or so men suddenly stood in front of the shop’s takeout window for drinks. When asked by GeekWire if he was from out of town, he laughed and asked if that was clear.

A group of real estate investors representing various companies…

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