Amazon announced today that it’s setting up a $5 million fund to assist small businesses around its Downtown and South Lake Union campuses impacted by the precipitous drop in foot traffic caused by a work-from-home guidelines in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
According to a post on the company’s official blog, the fund will be earmarked for small businesses of fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue, and are located “within a few blocks” of the office buildings near the Regrade campus and South Lake Union. Those would include restaurants and food trucks in the vicinity of Amazon’s 50 buildings in the two neighborhoods. As part of the grant process, Amazon will request information on how much revenue “each applicant anticipates it’ll lose in March.” Businesses can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive info about applying. Amazon will follow up with all interested applicants next week with a form that they will need to fill out, with the aim to dole out the first funds quickly.
Last week, Amazon was one of several large companies urging its employees to work from home following guidelines by King County authorities to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. This was done with public health as an understandable priority, but the economic impact has been immediate and severe, with several businesses in the Downtown area seeing a drop in sales by as much as 70 percent recently. This weekend, five restaurants co-owned by chef Kevin Davis, including several within blocks of the Amazon Spheres, announced they would be temporarily closing. Belltown mainstay Local 360 announced today on its website that it will be closing due to coronavirus impacts and thanked its customers for “10 wonderful years,” although owner Marcus Charles tells Eater Seattle “time will tell” if the closure is permanent. Others, such as those within Tom Douglas’s restaurant group, have adjusted their hours.
This Amazon announcement follows a separate $2.5 million fund detailed earlier this week, intended to help workers affected by coronavirus impacts, including those who can’t take sick leave, people without health insurance, and healthcare workers. Amazon and Microsoft contributed money to that fund, along with partners that included Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, United Way of King County, King County, and the City of Seattle. Amazon also recently said it would subsidize one-month’s rent in its buildings for small businesses that are tenants in those spaces (chef Renee Erickson’s Wilmott’s Ghost in the Amazon Spheres, for instance).
While every bit helps, the impact that big companies withdrawing from the bustle of daily Seattle life shows just how precarious the commerce ecosystem can be in this city, especially for a restaurant industry that already has very low margins. And, as Recode details, Amazon has had a complicated relationship with the city, fighting a head tax tooth and nail for years. It remains to be seen how much of a difference this new injection of cash to small businesses in the area will have and how exactly the money will be distributed. But with the crisis showing no signs of abating any time soon, it seems apparent that all-out efforts across the board will be vital from Seattle’s public and private sector.