Amazon’s new back-to-office policy for small businesses is welcome around Seattle headquarters – GeekWire

Shannon Rau, owner of dog daycare and bar Martha’s Garden, says she hopes Amazon’s new work policy will boost business at her establishment in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Inside a dog daycare business in Seattle’s South Lake Union on Friday, a handful of pups scurried around and barked as if they knew something was changing in the neighborhood that Amazon calls home.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy sent a company-wide email that morning with a new mandate: corporate and technology employees must be in the office at least three days a week.

Shannon Rau, owner of the day care, called the indoor dog park and human bar Martha’s Gardencalled it “a great story” for her two-year-old small business on 9th Avenue North in the heart of the Amazon near downtown Seattle.

“Our whole plan was kind of based on having the Amazon crowd here,” Rau said. “Hopefully this will actually create a bit of change.”

The past three years have been rough for businesses in Seattle and other urban centers across the country that rely on a steady beat of worker foot traffic.

Whether it’s a pet-friendly bar or a restaurant or a food truck or a hair salon, the move to remote and hybrid work models by companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and others has had a huge impact on many small business owners, with their -includes many that had to close. down.

An Amazon banana stand in the South Lake Union neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

On a gray Friday in Seattle, lunchtime traffic was slow on the streets surrounding Amazon’s office. Business owners in the area said it was a particularly difficult day, as workers who are already splitting time between home and the office seem to be choosing mid-week days to come in.

Ellie Galus, bar manager at Sam’s Tavern at 9th Avenue North and Harrison Street, said “yay!” when told about Amazon’s new plans, and said it would be nice if more people came out to business lunches.

The bar/restaurant was less than half full on Friday lunchtime diners. Pre-pandemic, every table would be full for lunch and happy hour was “insane,” Galus said.

“We were good Tuesday to Thursday, but Monday and Friday are tough,” she said. “And I’m assuming it’s because people don’t come to the office on Mondays and Fridays. Fridays are killing us right now.”

The lunchtime crowd inside Sam’s Tavern in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Antonia Zamorano, owner of the Tacos El Tajin food truck, two trucks parks near Amazon five days a week. Like others, she said that only three days a week are semi-busy.

“Three years ago was very busy,” Zamorano said. She used to get 150 customers a day at one truck. Now she is down to 35 customers a day. To survive, she stopped paying herself and her children who work the business.

To make matters especially painful, her husband, Tomas Lopez, a prominent man in the food truck community, died of COVID at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. He was 44.

“It’s crazy,” Zamorano said. “The pandemic is too bad.”

Antonia Zamorano, owner of Tacos El Tajin, at her food truck in South Lake Union on Friday. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Rau, owner of a dog daycare, opened his space counting Amazon dogs and their owners that are part of the fabric of the neighborhood and nearby office buildings.

“There has also been a big change in the population of people who live here. If you go into these buildings, they are completely empty,” said Rau as he gestured at neighboring properties.

Adding to the anxiety of running her own business during tough economic times, Rau said Amazon recently laid off her partner. The tech giant, which has grown significantly during the pandemic with the acceleration of online shopping and cloud computing, employs 75,000 people in the Seattle region, many of them corporate and technology workers.

As part of an 18,000-person layoff announced late last year, more than 2,300 Amazon employees were cut in the Seattle area, part of a wave of layoffs that hit tech companies.

“We’re really looking forward to some kind of comeback and this should be moving us in the right direction,” Rau said of Amazon’s decision to move away from an existing policy of leaving return decisions to the office. submitted to individual team leaders.

A customer and their pet walk into Martha’s Garden on 9th Avenue North in Seattle on Friday. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

In his memo to employees on Friday, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy did not detail any specific day that employees will have to work in offices. He said the plan to implement the change is starting on May 1.

Jassy said he hopes the return of thousands of employees to office buildings in the Seattle region and other urban headquarters locations will boost small businesses.

“Our communities are important to us, and when we can play an additional role in helping them recover from the challenges of the past years, we are excited to do so,” Jassy wrote.

Amazon, the region’s largest employer, has provided millions of dollars to local small businesses in the Seattle area during the pandemic, including its Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund and additional rent relief.

Midtown centers have been affected by the pandemic, some of which are still struggling with the rise of hybrid work policies and ongoing safety concerns, among other trends.

Many companies in Seattle are getting rid of or downsizing their downtown space. Office building occupancy in downtown Seattle last November increased year-over-year from 15-20% to 35-60%, according to a report from CBRE. But only a “trickle” of tech tenants signed new leases downtown in the fourth quarter of last year, the report noted.

(Downtown Seattle Association Charter)

A recent analysis by the University of California Berkeley and the University of Toronto ranked Seattle No.

The percentage of 2019 worker foot traffic in downtown Seattle compared to 2022 has improved over the past year but is still hovering around 40%, according to data from the Downtown Seattle Association.

News of Amazon’s policy change is “music to the ears of small businesses and arts organizations,” said DSA President and CEO Jon Scholes.

“We have an opportunity to use this good news to create a flywheel effect and attract more employees to the town center and further efforts to strengthen the weekday foot traffic which is vital to the continued recovery of our small businesses, our restaurants and our arts & cultural centers,” Scholes said in a statement to GeekWire.

City leaders in nearby Bellevue, where Amazon has grown rapidly — but also recently halted construction of an office tower to study the impact of hybrid work — were equally enthusiastic. Joe Fain, CEO of the Bellevue Chamber, said the policy change “will be a catalyst to stabilize our commercial market while accelerating the return of retail tenants, restaurants and other commercial offices.”

The Space Needle disappears behind the Seattle gray as construction continues in the South Lake Union neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

A recent budget proposal by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell noted that “some workers are under increasing pressure to be in the office at least part-time, but are unlikely to return to a full-time, 5-day-a-week office. for many.”

Speaking at the GeekWire Summit in October, Harrell said he was concerned about the impact of people working at home on the city’s retail businesses and the potential loss of tax revenue.

“I can’t mandate people to come downtown if there’s not something to drive there,” he said.

Several establishments have seen steady activity, including those on the doorstep of Amazon’s largest office towers in Seattle’s Denny Triangle area.

Business at The Tavern Victor, Ethan Stowell’s restaurant located across from The Spheres at 6th Avenue and Lenora Street, is “unbelievable,” said Randy Deshaies, assistant general manager. Lunch is the busiest time of the day, and it’s an absolutely happy hour, he said on Friday.

But for some restaurants and other businesses across Amazonia – home to large engineering office complexes for Google, Facebook and Apple – a boost is still needed.

Two customers wait for their orders at Spice on Curve, an Indian food truck in South Lake Union on Friday. (GeekWire Photo/Kurt Schlosser)

Sayed Salem and Nasima Akhter, owners of the Spice on a Curve An Indian food truck was among the business owners GeekWire visited in October 2021, when Amazon announced a change in its remote work policy.

“How can we survive?” Salem said at the time, because it was down to 40 customers a day, from a peak of 250 to 300 customers the day before the pandemic.

Parked at the corner of Terry and Thomas streets on Fridays, Spice on Curve is intact. Business is “starting to pick up,” Salem said, adding that they are now attracting 60 to 70 customers a day. But it was not easy.

“The city needs the working people,” he said. “This is my life.”

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