Seattle’s central neighborhood split into new Amazon Fresh store

A new grocery store has opened at 23 and Jackson: Amazon Fresh.

It is in the same place where the Red Apple grocery store used to be. The Red Apple was a popular place where neighbors met and said “Hello”. Its closure and demolition have become a sore point for residents who feel they are losing the soul of their neighborhood.

Now Amazon is trying to prove that its grocery store can be just as important to the community.

When it opened last year, the Jackson Apartments brought hundreds of new people to this part of the Central Area / Central District.

A newcomer to the neighborhood is Jansen. He doesn’t want to give his last name because he works in cybersecurity, and that can attract hackers.

He says it’s a great place to live.

“I’ll tell you that way. When my lady and I saw the new place come in there, I was like ‘There’s just going to be a bunch of gentrified yahoos going to be living in this building, it’s too expensive for us,’ “he said. . “And then we saw that they lowered their prices enough that we could afford it, I was like, ‘Hey, let’s go, those yahoos.’ “

Sometimes Jansen does her shopping in the Amazon Fresh store below her apartment.

Amazon recently built its own grocery stores, each testing a different technology. This one uses smart grocery carts.

Jansen says he doesn’t like the store because it’s a bit small, but it’s convenient. “It’s perfect if you just need to grab some spinach for a smoothie,” he says.

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The new development on this block, with its apartments and grocery store, draws mixed feelings from Victoria Beach. She is 62 years old and grew up in the Central Zone. And while she says her ideal neighborhood would include people of all races, she also says it’s painful to see so many white residents move into what was once a predominantly black neighborhood. It reminds him of all the black families who have moved. “It makes me sad because it was ours. And no one wanted to live here at the time.

When Amazon Fresh prepared to open, Beach applied for a job at that grocery store. Later, she backed up, worried about what her friends would think. “There were a lot of reasons I didn’t take it,” she said. “On the one hand, I felt like a traitor.”

Before Amazon moved in – even before this development was fully designed – there were public meetings about what would be built here. Some residents have expressed concern; they wanted to know if development would be good for them.

I ask Victoria Beach to go shopping with me at Amazon Fresh and tell me what she sees.

“I’m just curious to see where this is going to go,” she said as we walk down the escalator to the store.

Inside the store, Beach pushes her cart down the aisles. “And that’s a good deal there, French bread at 89 cents,” she said.

She searches for foods that she likes. When she can’t find things, we try to ask Alexa. There is a smart speaker mounted on a pole in one of the aisles.

“Alexa, where do you find the catfish?” Beach asks.

“I don’t know where to find the catfish. Please consult with a store associate for assistance, ”Alexa replies.

“Alexa, where do you find sweet potatoes?” She tries again.

“I don’t know where to find sweet potatoes. Please consult a store associate for assistance.

“Hey Alexa, where can I find wine?”

“You can find wine in aisle 5.”

“What does that tell you?” I asked at the beach.

“That tells me she’s not black,” she laughs.

“Hey Alexa, where can I find black eyed peas?” she tries again.

“Find some black-eyed peas in Aisle 1,” Alexa replies.

“Well, maybe she’s half black,” Beach says.

Caption: Pantea Naghibi is the manager of Amazon Fresh 23rd and Jackson store

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The store manager here is Pantea Naghibi. She told me that when customers can’t find what they want, they’re welcome to use Amazon’s app to post a suggestion. And when the suggestions pile up, she says the business is listening.

“A specific item in this neighborhood is collard greens,” Naghibi explains. “Originally when we launched we didn’t have this item and it was a shortage. But due to high customer demand we are now able to provide customers with collard greens and they are very, very happy.

Victoria Beach enjoyed the collard greens prepared in the hot bar. But having the right foods at the right prices is only half the picture. The other half concerns the economy. Who benefits from the jobs here?

“A lot of the employees are black. Many of them. But not the customers, ”Beach observes as we walk through the store.

Jobs are one of Amazon’s main promises to this community. It does not offer unionized jobs; in fact, it fights union organizing efforts in its workplaces. But it promises that the hard work will pay off well.

I have heard many stories of workers at this Amazon Fresh who do not plan to stay in their current job for years and years. Instead, these employees want to move up the ranks or use the benefits of Amazon to take their education in another direction.

Caption: Robel Teshome works at Amazon Fresh in the Seattle Central District.  He lives nearby and walks to work.

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“I’m pretty much hoping next summer to get an internship at Amazon,” said Robel Teshome, a biochemistry student at the University of Seattle who works at Amazon Fresh. Teshome lives in the neighborhood with his family and walks to work.

“I would love to be part of Amazon’s design team,” says Dany Curbelo, a Cuban immigrant who lives in the upstairs apartments with his family.

Caption: Dany Curbelo poses among some of the older style shopping carts on Amazon Fresh for customers who don't want to use the smart

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Mel Shen is a director at Amazon Fresh. She encourages workers to think in this direction.

“One of the big questions they ask is this opportunity. They’ve worked in different grocery stores and they feel they don’t have a lot of room for growth, ”she says. “Whereas at Amazon, because it’s not just a grocery store, because there are so many different trade routes in the business, you’re not locked into a grocery store, there are opportunities everywhere. You just really have to go find them.

Shen speaks from experience. She’s only been here a year, but recently applied for a job at Amazon Web Services, a completely different part of the business. She got the job and is starting next month.

Not all grocers can advance their careers this way. This is one of the reasons Amazon started offering to pay the tuition fees of its frontline workers – after they were there for three months.

Amazon’s arrival in the Central District is the latest in a series of big changes to this district. There are a lot of new apartments and businesses, some of which are black owned.

It’s hard not to compare the jobs at Amazon Fresh to the jobs at the old Red Apple grocery store that were there before the block was redeveloped. At the Red Apple, people stayed for years. Some of them served as cashiers for two different generations of customers.

Caption: Victoria Beach at 23 and Jackson in Seattle

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After my shopping spree with Victoria Beach, I asked her what she thought of Amazon’s impact on the Central District.

“You know, it’s true that they brought jobs to the neighborhood,” she says. “But they owe us because they are taking our neighborhood. So they should give back that way.”

Beach says she doesn’t view the employees who work at Amazon Fresh as traitors.

“A lot of them that I see are young and they don’t have the history that I have,” she says. “I’m glad they have a job. And even the people shopping here who are black. I have nothing against them. I mean, I don’t tell anyone not to shop here. But …” Beach pauses before continuing, “It’s not for me.”

Amazon spokespeople have made it clear that this grocery store welcomes everyone, and the company has learned from past controversies.

For example, its stores accept SNAP benefit cards, so low-income people can shop there. And in June, the company announced it would donate $ 1 million to neighborhood nonprofits.

The demographic shifts happening here were sparked long before Amazon came along, and community members say Amazon is now just one of many newcomers who will have to work to build trust.

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