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November 24, 2014

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Zappos’ employees finding downtown’s no Corporate Circle in Henderson

Image

Leila Navidi

Zappos employees Graham Kahr, a social scientist, and Ashley Kahr, a receptionist, walk to the parking garage on Stewart Avenue from the Zappos temporary offices on Carson Avenue. A security guard follows behind them in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. Graham Kahr said he’s a downtowner by choice and this is home to him, “a place where I feel safest.”

Zappos on Carson

Nicole Galgano, left, Launch slideshow »

Map of Zappos.com

Zappos.com

400 Stewart Avenue, Las Vegas

Barely 10 steps beyond the door of Zappos’ Downtown Project office, Krissee Danger walks past a man who asks for a spare cigarette as she pulls one out of her purse.

“This is my last one,” she says.

Would she have given one if she had more?

“No.”

A block farther, a homeless man, burnished and brown from sun and dirt, has his blackened brown shorts unbuttoned and open. With no hesitation, he makes an adjustment down under, buttons and zips up, and sprints across the street yelling at someone no one else can see.

One more block and Danger, officially known as the Downtown Project’s “Visits Wizard,” is inside Zappos’ temporary office for 200 employees at Third Street and Carson Avenue. The office has been open for about a month; in about a year, Zappos expects to move most of its nearly 2,000 employees from Henderson to the old City Hall, which is being renovated.

“That was interesting,” Danger says, chuckling, about the man on the street.

A Midwest native, Danger spent years in Los Angeles before moving to Las Vegas. She says she’s witnessed scenes in L.A. that make what’s going on in downtown Las Vegas seem “like nothing.”

But not everyone at Zappos has lived or worked in an urban core previously. And some of those now working in the Carson Avenue office are feeling a bit uneasy. The Sun received an email from someone claiming to be a Zappos employee — her identity was unknown — who said safety and office amenities are becoming an issue to some who work in the new office.

“I can understand how some of them feel,” said Pat Warren, 31, who was working at one of dozens of airy spaces in the Zappos office.

Warren grew up in a Kentucky city of 11,000 and lived in Henderson before moving and now working downtown. He seems to take the cityscape and its blemishes in stride. He also has heard the complaints.

“This is a city, and there might be a few people who are freaked out by it,” he said.

The Sun received another email from a person — not claiming to be a Zappos employee but saying he or she speaks for “employees” working downtown — who said those employees have “serious safety concerns” about walking four blocks from their parking garage next to old City Hall on Stewart Avenue to Carson Avenue.

Zappos has hired security to help, the writer said but added that employees still were “harassed and at times even threatened by the homeless population that lines the sidewalk.

“It’s not all roses.”

Zappos is known for lavishing benefits upon employees some say make up for wages that don’t equal those of similar online businesses. In its Henderson headquarters (currently leased from a company affiliated with Greenspun Media Group, parent company of the Sun), there’s a darkened room where workers can nap, a massive kitchen full of almost anything you can think of to eat and drink — all free — and a keg of beer and bottles of liquor employees can dip into if they want. There’s a coffee shop with baristas who fix Starbucks-perfect drinks. Again for free. Parking and safety aren't issues.

Many Zappos employees also live near the Henderson building, so the commute is short.

In the downtown office, a smallish kitchen offers free everything, too — deli meats, sodas, chips, candy bars, coffee. There's just not as much as in the Henderson office. That, too, has irked some employees, the email writer said.

“These may sound like small concerns, as most jobs don’t provide such benefits,” the email says, “but to many Zappos employees, the added perks are what encouraged them to take the jobs in the first place.”

When Danger saw the unzipped homeless man on her way to Carson Avenue, so did Zach Ware, overseer of the City Hall renovation project, on his way out of the Carson Avenue office.

Ware said the Zappos staff is listening and working hard to address complaints. The company just signed a deal, for instance, to hire a shuttle service within the next few weeks to haul people from the parking garage by City Hall four blocks to the Carson Avenue office. The shuttle also will move people between the Henderson office and downtown.

Additionally, Zappos increased security at the parking garage from two to four guards and has talked with Metro Police about security concerns.

Zappos speaks plainly, though, about the differences between its campus in Henderson and the downtown Las Vegas office. They aren’t the same. They never will be the same.

“We said upfront we were looking for pioneers, and we actually call them pioneers,” Ware said of the new downtown workers. “We said this is going to be challenging. We don’t have adequate parking next door; we don’t have space for a gigantic coffee shop and bistro; and we’re constantly modifying and adjusting.”

Employees will also see and deal with situations that never confronted them in Henderson. Ware knows; he’s lived downtown for the past two years.

“Sometimes you’re going to see a homeless person or someone you wouldn’t encounter on the Zappos campus,” but at the same time, sometimes you’re going to run into an artist here, or run into a musician," he said. "We think that’s the upside and that it very much outweighs the downside.”

Every bit of feedback or complaint, he stresses, is looked at seriously. That doesn’t mean every complaint has an easy fix.

“We realize there’s a lot of things we can do to make it more productive and secure, but there’s a lot of things we can’t do because the city of Las Vegas is not the Zappos campus.”

Flinn Fagg, Las Vegas planning director, said a sense of safety also would come as more people filled downtown streets.

“One of the key things that helps to make people safer in a downtown area and less inviting to other elements is when you have activity on the sidewalks and the natural surveillance of residents on the street, and business owners who become protective and won’t allow undesirable elements to linger,” he said. “That’s going to happen over time.”

To be sure, not everyone feels the fear.

Amanda Wadsworth, a 24-year-old merchandise assistant, isn’t based permanently downtown but said she tries to get to the office as much as possible. The Daytona Beach, Fla., native likes the atmosphere and feels she gets more done. When her apartment lease near Boulder City expires, she said, she also wants to move downtown.

She relocated to Nevada about a year ago and said she never lived in a big city before, but that doesn’t mean she’s a “country bumpkin.”

But what about security and safety? Is she worried?

Wadsworth is told of the homeless man with the open-fly shorts from a few minutes earlier. Her eyebrows rise and she delivers in all seriousness the humor that can make living in a city core more tolerable.

“What?” she says, not missing a beat. “I call that a date.”

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  1. Zappos employees are not the only people that have these issues. Clean up Downtown Las Vegas.

  2. Is this the Zappo's effect? Being escorted from your office to your car? Hahahaha

    http://www.vegasinc.com/news/2012/sep/24...

  3. Downtown is nothing to be scared about. If you wanna be scared take a walk west of the Stratosphere. Downtown is rainbows and daffodils compared to that. There are plenty of cops, especially at night.

  4. zappo is an online retailer that already sold out to Amazon. They create nothing. Its not Ethel-M, Ocean Spray or Shuffle Master. Its ok, the pet rock people didn't save the world either.

  5. "That was interesting," Danger says, chuckling, about the man on the street."

    Welcome to humanity, Yuppies.

    A security escort for just walking down the street in broad daylight? What an over-reaction. Downtown isn't the sterile family-friendly suburbs, and it isn't really any more dangerous than walking down the street of any other major city.

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." -- George Orwell's "Animal Farm" (1945)

  6. Why did Zappos leave beautiful henderson to relocate to downtown las vegas? Talk about two different places. Downtown las vegas is more like a third world country than an american city. Its old, ugly and full of out of work and homeless people. I wonder what politician or city deal was offered to propel Zappos to make this terrible move? Really stupid!

  7. One anchor business does not make a downtown. If you look at a downtown, like Seattle, you see scores of recognizable, non gaming businesses. Lunch hour is a time there for office workers to shop and congregate. Zappos could be the beginning of something, but it won't remake downtown, as a viable scene, all by itself.

  8. 777s, that's a great message and I agree 100%.

    Tell us all how much of YOUR annual income YOU are donating to the cause and then we'll all encourage Tony and Zappos to do the same.

    Or is this one of those causes that's important for other people to donate to...but not important enough to get YOUR money.

  9. How much money was saved on rent between the two places? That's the million dollar question. If a person doesn't feel safe walking around down-town, I feel sorry for you. It's not that bad. I'm sure there are thousands of people ready to take those jobs if the employees are that dissapointred.

  10. Ha ha Told you so,

  11. ZZZ comments are way off, I have dealt with homeless people for years, they are for the most part lazy and have no respect for anyones elses' property, the world is their toilet. If the city was smart they would pass laws against pan handling, drunkenness, maybe even smelling like a unflushed 3 day old toilet and clean up the city streets for those who will bring value to them. There is plenty of desert out there, put up big tents and let them sleep out there away from those they bother. If our military can sleep in that environment surely these "poor" homeless can. Maybe some would change to productive in a controlled environment, which of course is available all over the city if they wanted that.

  12. every city has homeless people, whats unique about the homeless in vegas is they are stuck there, even if they wanted to leave, im guessing few of them would have the funds to leave the desert island they inhabit.
    as long as the homeless live and hang out on the streets downtown, they will always scare the average office worker, as it does in every city.
    so, what can be done with them, where can they go, would the city pay to send them to other cities, is that even legal. this seems to be a problem...can you arrest all of them and house them at the publics expense...so everybody who says the police should get them off the streets, what should they do with them...
    dont get me wrong, i would like them gone also, but i just dont know what can be done long term...

  13. @ mtmfx...."Why did Zappos leave beautiful henderson to relocate to downtown Las Vegas?" First off, where is this "beautiful henderson" of which you speak. I have lived here all my life and wouldn't describe a single block of Henderson as beautiful.

    But, to answer your question, Tony moved the company to downtown because "Downtown las vegas is more like a third world country than an american city" not in spite of that fact. The only way to invoke change in areas like downtown is to fill it with law-abiding people who will both support business while not tolerating lawlessness.

    That being said, I have to admit I am always amazed that, with double digit unemployment, people have the audacity to complain about the job they have. Those who don't like the move can just quit. Someone else will be at your desk before your seat is cold, and you can just get a job at one of the other national retail corporations in Henderson that provide you a room to take a nap.

  14. Bad break for the current employees of Zappos. Walking the gauntlet through the stench of urine and garbage along with the cornucopia of down and out inhabitants of the street on daily basis would be too much for me. I don't care how much security you have, it's like getting your own private tour of hell twice a day.

    Now, if you were unlucky enough to be born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia, it might all be tolerable. But I don't think anyone who has seen what a city is supposed to look like could possibly cope with the cheesy shops and restaurants assaulting the senses on every block.

    Let me end with this. Everything downtown has been executed with such shortsightedness and in such poor taste and inferior quality, that even the busted out, uneducated and un-socialized vagrants feel right at home. Why should they leave when the city has gone through so much trouble to accommodate their taste.

  15. "Everything downtown has been executed with such shortsightedness and in such poor taste and inferior quality, that even the busted out, uneducated and un-socialized vagrants feel right at home. Why should they leave when the city has gone through so much trouble to accommodate their taste."

    Clearly, someone who has never, ever been downtown.

  16. The Zappos CEO screwed over his employees royally when he moved the headquarters. now people who own homes, mostly in the area of the old headquarters, have to slug it out in traffic in order to go to the new location. Thanks boss for the extra hour a day I get to spend in my car.