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Amazon’s Extended Work from Home Policy to 2021 Means More Problems for Downtown Restaurants

Many will face continued headwinds

A bus showing a sign that says “Essential Trips Only” passes the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle.
Amazon’s downtown offices are reopening, but the company says employees who can work from home can do so until January.
Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

This week, Amazon let its Seattle corporate employees know that if they can work from home, they’re welcome to do so until Jan. 8, 2021. That policy had already been in place until October 2020, but has now been extended, even as the corporate offices reopen with new safety measures. The policy extension also means businesses in the vicinity of the Amazon campus will likely face even more problems than they have already.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted the Seattle area, Amazon was among the first companies to tell its employees to work from home, and almost immediately restaurants downtown and in the South Lake Union area saw a precipitous drop in business. Many shut down even before Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a stay-at-home order in March.

Things haven’t gotten much better since then. Even though Seattle is currently in phase two of the state’s reopening plan, with restaurants and bars allowed to resume dine-in service at 50 percent capacity, restaurants around the Amazon campus are still experiencing a financial squeeze. A few, such as Tom Douglas’s Brave Horse Tavern and Cuoco (housed in an Amazon building) and Zheng Cafe, have already permanently closed.

Now, restaurants around Amazon will need to deal with six more months of decreased foot traffic and even greater uncertainty, as Washington’s phased reopening hits a stall, with the potential to be rolled back in the not-too-distant future.

While there has been some economic relief for restaurants over the past few months in the form of federal paycheck protection program (PPP) loans and local grants (including an Amazon fund and the SLU Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Fund), that money is unlikely to provide enough coverage until 2021 for businesses most severely impacted. In May, Amazon also instituted a pilot program providing a free delivery service for restaurants in its buildings, but it’s unclear how long that will continue.

Unless those programs are adjusted to accommodate a longer stretch of time — or more help arrives — restaurants that relied on Amazon for their livelihoods will continue to confront a daunting outlook for the foreseeable future.