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Amazon shifts return-to-office stance, says remote work is OK 2 days a week

Katherine Anne Long, Heidi Groover, Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

“For some time now we have been seeing homeowners ‘cash out’ of King County and head to Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties where they can buy a home and either put down very large down payments — or pay all cash. Those working at [Amazon] are likely to do the same,” said Windermere chief economist Matthew Gardner.

But the most affluent may not have to choose. Javila Creer, a Seattle-based broker who says most of her clients are tech workers, said well-off homebuyers went after second homes in outlying locations like Suncadia and Leavenworth during the pandemic. “I bet now some will live in those places more full time and then have a smaller place in the city,” she said.

For renters, the pandemic drove down prices in once-hot Seattle neighborhoods like downtown and South Lake Union. Now, rents in those areas are “essentially flat,” said CoStar analyst David Whitmore. Amazon’s Thursday announcement could dampen demand in Seattle and Bellevue, “but that impact might be modest,” he said.

More rattling could be Facebook’s new remote work policy. In Bellevue, where Facebook plans to occupy nearly 1.2 million square feet in the under-development Spring District, some apartment developers and landlords “have likely been counting on well-paid Facebook employees generating demand for their properties,” Whitmore said.

With those workers instead able to choose from neighborhoods all over the region, “this increased competition could impact the ability of Bellevue landlords to put through rent hikes in the coming quarters.”

Effects on downtown businesses

Amazon’s new policy could also add to the hardships of South Lake Union business owners who have seen foot traffic through the neighborhood collapse. In pre-pandemic times, most of Amazon’s 60,000 Seattle-area employees commuted to the office daily. So far, few have returned.

 

The return of workers to offices “is an essential component of downtown’s recovery,” said Downtown Seattle Association president and CEO Jon Scholes. “That’s why it is more important than ever for Seattle to be a competitive place that can attract new employers and be a place where our existing employers want to grow and add jobs. New jobs mean new customers for downtown small businesses and arts and cultural organizations.”

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey. Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80% continue to work remotely, according to DSA data.

But restaurateur Tom Douglas, who has two downtown locations — Serious Pie and Seatown Market & Fishfry — and plans in coming weeks to reopen several eateries that closed last year, said Amazon’s work-from-home policy was just one among a slew of challenges facing the Seattle restaurant industry.

“Amazon just needs to do what’s best for them,” said Douglas. “I can’t worry about it. You know, it is what it is and so we’re just going to go about our business and try and get things open as we can.” Two of his closed restaurants were in Amazon-owned buildings.

The restaurant industry’s labor shortage “is probably a bigger issue at the moment,” Douglas said. As he tries to hire staff to reopen downtown locations, he is competing against “corporate cafeterias” that are able to “pay at a different scale and offer benefits on a different scale than we can,” Douglas said.

“Whether Amazon comes back full or half or whatever,” Douglas said, “there’s other worries … that we have as a business.”

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