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Businesses struggle in Seattle's South Lake Union as Amazon keeps employees remote

Amazon says its employees won't be returning to the office until 2022 and even then, many teams could stay remote for the foreseeable future.

SEATTLE — Amazon announced earlier this week its employees won't be returning to the South Lake Union headquarters until at least January 2022, which is having a ripple effect on the small businesses trying to survive the pandemic. 

Amazon is Washington's largest employer with roughly 80,000 workers, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, surpassing Boeing in 2020. 

"We don't have enough customers," said Sayed Salem, who operates a food truck at the corner of Terry and Thomas streets in South Lake Union. 

Salem explained many other businesses in the neighborhood have gone under during the pandemic, but Amazon has survived with its thousands of employees who, unfortunately for him, still aren't back in the office. 

"Here there are two architectural companies... out of business. Dental clinic was here... out of business, from this area at least," said Salem. 

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Salem's Spice on Curve is one of the last holdouts of what used to be food truck row, pre-pandemic. It's a sight that's dwindling, along with foot traffic. 

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced that Amazon is shifting its work-from-home policy, again, and will now let department leaders decide whether to keep their teams working remotely or do a hybrid model. 

That announcement has left many questioning the immediate future of South Lake Union, which exploded with growth and opportunities just a few years ago. 

Salem said he's worried about what the next announcement could be as his profits continue to go down. 

"I am also a businessman. If they realize that remote work is profitable for them... they might make it permanent," Salem said. 

Salem said he thinks he can hold on for several more months but beyond that, he may need government help to stay in business. 

During Thursday night's Seattle mayoral debate, one of the first questions involved Amazon. 

Candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell argued the company needs to pay its fair share of taxes to help with issues like affordable housing, among others. Those questions also brought up concerns about if the tech giant were to leave Seattle and the impact that would have on the city. 

Watch the full mayoral debate: