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

While Amazon’s recent change to its return to office policy is likely welcome news for Seattle-based employees who have become accustomed to working remotely, Sayed Salem suffers.

Sitting in his food truck Seasoning on curve, which serves authentic Indian cuisine in the heart of Amazonia on Tuesday, Salem says it’s cut down to around 40 customers a day. Two years ago he served 250 to 300 people in one working day.

“How can we survive?” he asked.

Amazon said Monday that instead of bringing employees back to the office en masse in early January, it is leaving decisions to individual team leaders, with no set expectations for the number of days those corporate employees will work in the office.

The tech giant’s remote working policy affects more than just its 50,000 corporate and tech employees in Seattle – it affects the food truck, flower shop, bike shop, burger shop, dog treats, cafes, and other small businesses that rely on the company’s workforce, to stay in business.

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

Salem and his 35-year-old wife, Nasima Akhter, have been running Spice on Curve for seven years. Her second truck was stolen from the parking lot two weeks ago. It was recovered with $ 10,000 damage.

Salem’s legs hurt when he has to stand for 15 or 16 hours, and he said it was almost impossible to find help. Before the pandemic, he was paying $ 12 an hour. Paying much more would add to the battle he’s already faced with increased ingredient costs and business losses.

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

“But big boss, they’re just extending it because they have a new way of doing things – working from home,” he said. “They make money, but what about the thousands of companies that actually depend on Amazon?”

A dog receives a biscuit from a banana stand employee, which she clearly recognizes outside an Amazon office building in South Lake Union. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

At lunchtime, the streets around South Lake Union were definitely quieter than the usual busy scene that has always attracted food trucks. But at least there were some people on the street and in nearby restaurants, unlike during the toughest months of the health crisis. An Amazon employee who grabbed a box of hot food was a regular at Salem’s truck. The recent change in Amazon’s official policy had no impact on his daily routine.

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

The recent change to Amazon’s remote working policy underscores the uncertainty caused by the continued spread of COVID-19, including the surge in the highly contagious Delta variant in recent months. Previously, Amazon set a “baseline” of three days a week in the office and two days remote as part of its preference for an “office-centric” culture.

The company planned to return to the office in September, then postponed the date to January 3, before moving on Monday.

Other companies have also pushed back their plans to bring employees back to the office. Microsoft, the other tech giant in the region, is leaving its return date open for the time being.

“For the sake of the neighborhood”

An empty common area on Tuesday next to the Spheres and Amazons Day 1 Tower, on the left. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

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

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

“It is clear that many workers want to spend their working day in dynamic, urban neighborhoods like downtown Seattle, where they have access to arts and culture, sports and entertainment, and a great dining scene,” said DSA President and CEO Jon Scholes in a statement.

In a third quarter commercial real estate report, Kidder Mathews said that downtown retail “still depends on the thousands of office workers frequenting the vertical buildings.”

To make up for the closings somewhat, DSA said that nearly 300 new street-level locations have opened in the city center since January 2020.

The Seattle Barkery Is one of them.

The small shop that sells animal toys and treats, including the Bacon Pupcake, was operated entirely by trucks in Seattle. It opened its first stationary store in April 2020 – just in time for the pandemic. The location at the base of an Amazon tower seemed like the perfect spot for an area that is usually overrun by dogs that are allowed in the workplace.

A sign calls out to the missing crowds in front of the Wild Ginger restaurant. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

A human customer and a dog were in the store on Tuesday. Owner Dawn Ford told GeekWire that Amazon’s relocation policy is like a “dangling carrot” when, perhaps like one of her four-legged customers, she asks for workers to return.

The neighborhood is busy, but Amazon isn’t busy.

“The neighborhood is busy, but Amazon isn’t busy,” said Ford. “We’ve established ourselves in the neighborhood and pandemic puppies have been abundant and a real boon to us. But our initial sales targets there are probably around 50%, so of course we’ve been waiting for Amazon to get back to work. “

Ford rents her space from Amazon, and she said that while a lot of people don’t love the company, “they’ve just been generous to us.” The Barkery is in its 19th month of rental release, which Ford described as “extremely wonderful.”

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

“If it’s a choice I think that’s great, but I hope for small businesses and for the neighborhood.

An Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire on Wednesday that the company has provided more than $ 16 million to over 900 local small businesses in the Puget Sound area since the pandemic began last year, between its Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund and additional rental relief.

The hustle and bustle between Amazon’s many office buildings is still missing as many thousands of workers remain remote. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

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

The store’s location on the Amazon campus is noteworthy, as employees who pay $ 89 a month through a special VanMoof program to lease a bike for a year are reimbursed through the tech giant’s bike-commuting benefit can.

Whether the weather is less suitable for bicycles, a lack of pedestrian traffic at the shop or supply problems caused by pandemics, business could be better, said Deputy Managing Director Kusha Akbarpour. If employees “drove to and from work, that would help,” he added, presumably because those employees were so annoyed with sitting in the once soul-destroying Seattle traffic that they wanted to switch to an e-bike alternative.

In the South Lake Union Bouquet on the Amazon headquarters campus. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

at South Sea Union bouquet, across from the first Amazon Go convenience store, Lindsey Long worked behind the counter Tuesday and said it seems like the business has been growing steadily.

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

The flower shop 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 down here,” Long said.

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

at Shake shack the usual line of Amazons was absent from Westlake Avenue on Tuesday. The New York-based burger shop opened in October 2018 and has been constantly busy ever since, with a queue often at the door.

A worker at the online ordering walk-through window said business continues to do well thanks to those who live in the neighborhood or visit on the weekend. She said they do “a lot of DoorDash and Grubhub orders”.

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

Monorail espresso is the stuff of the coffee legend in Seattle, founded in 1980 as “the world’s first espresso cart”. With a small location on Westlake Avenue across from the Towers of Amazon, coffee is still a solid business in town – but the pandemic and remote labor have had their best impact.

“We hurt a lot, but we survived,” said a barista named Millie, who served drinks to a constant line of customers in the afternoon, many of them wearing Amazon badges. “Do you do your usual?” She asked a gentleman.

BEFORE: Remote work is already changing Seattle permanently, a survey of technical workers shows

It got particularly hectic when suddenly a dozen men lined up in front of the snack window of the shop to have a drink. Asked by GeekWire if they were out of town, they laughed and asked if it was obvious.

The group of real estate investors, representing various companies from Chicago and New York, were in town to see how Seattle’s commercial and residential scene was developing after the pandemic. “To see which cities feel less dead,” one man summed up the company’s US market comparison.

And to see more or less whether an investment makes sense or not, said another as some in the group craned their necks in front of the office and apartment towers that towered over the tiny café.