In the past two decades, Amazon has grown from a startup birthed in Jeff Bezo’s garage into one of the world’s largest tech companies.
In the late 1990s, the online-retail giant planted its first headquarters in Seattle, Washington, where it now employs 40,000 people and spans 8.1 million square feet.
Amazon’s presence has fundamentally changed the city, according to Cynthia Brothers, a 36-year-old Seattle native. In recent years, she has noticed that coffee shops, grocers, restaurants, and bars beloved by locals are increasingly shutting down to make way for upscale redevelopments.
Brothers – and many urbanism experts – argue that Amazon’s rise has contributed to the closure of independent retailers, along with rising housing prices, increased traffic, and constant construction.
Seattle’s gentrifying landscape inspired Brothers to launch Vanishing Seattle, an Instagram account that documents longstanding businesses that have shuttered. The photo project reveals a potential future for the city Amazon picks to house its new headquarters, called HQ2.
Take a look below.
Brothers began Vanishing Seattle in 2016.
Her first post was a video of a drag queen named Atasha, who performed Dream Girls’ “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” on the closing night of Inay’s, a longstanding restaurant and bar.
Brothers describes Inay’s as a popular institution that served as a hub for Seattle’s Asian-American and LGBT communities.
Inay’s closed due to a rent increase — something that has become increasingly common as Amazon becomes bigger in the city.
Since 2000, the area has added 99,000 new jobs, with 30% of them in tech, contributing to a construction boom. As Seattle’s largest property taxpayer and private employer, Amazon has continued to spur an influx of high-skilled tech workers.
Other startups have come to Seattle to ride out the tech boom.
The city’s building stock has struggled to keep up with demand, contributing to higher rent prices. As a result, some longtime residents and businesses in lower-income neighbourhoods have been driven out.
Whilethe connection between gentrification and small-business turnoveris complicated, a number of independent retailers are under pressure from soaring rents in Seattle, Brothers said.
Near Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union (a neighbourhood called “Amazonia” by locals), the Hurricane Cafe was recently bought and demolished by Amazon. The company plans to build two office towers in its place.
Nearby, a 50-year-old bar called 13 Coins closed on January 1 to make way for redevelopment. A few weeks prior, the Two Bells Tavern met the same fate.
Two Bells’ closure “hit people hard,” Brother said.
Brothers says displacement is happening not just in Amazonia, but in neighbourhoods across Seattle.
In Central Area, a half-dozen primarily black-and-immigrant-owned businesses served as deep-rooted community gathering spots.
The retail complex, called Promenade 23, centered around the Red Apple grocery store.
But in 2017, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate bought the property to turn it into a 530-unit residential tower. Here’s a rendering of what the development will look like:
There’s reason to believe that redevelopment could threaten small businesses in the chosen HQ2 city, too.
Real estate website Apartment List recently looked at HQ2’s potential impact on 15 North American cities, and found that it could raise rent prices by up to 2% annually.
According to the report, the HQ2 metro areas with the highest rent increases would include Raleigh, North Carolina (1.5% to 2% annually) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1.2% to 1.6%).
As a Seattle native, Brothers fears that the city will continue to lose its staple institutions.
Referring to Amazon’s campus, she said the company “constructed an artificial neighbourhood.”
“People don’t hang out after work or on the weekend. And what’s there now? A West Elm and fitness club that costs $US200 month. It’s a cultural wasteland,” she said.
“I worry about where the counterculture is going to go,” Brothers said. “Because the counterculture was Seattle’s culture. We need to create a city that’s not just about tech, convenience, consumption, and disruption.”
Drag queen Atasha performs “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” on the closing night of Inay’s, a former restaurant and bar in Seattle.