Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Map of Zappos.com
400 Stewart Avenue, Las Vegas
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- Dogged for years by crime, downtown Las Vegas experiencing improvements (6-11-2012)
- What’s behind Tony Hsieh’s unrelenting drive to remake downtown Las Vegas? (4-20-2012)
- Zappos becoming downtown’s magnet for startups (12-02-2011)
- Zappos putting its stamp on downtown Las Vegas (10-18-2011)
- Zappos CEO envisions a new community downtown (3-17-2011)
- More Zappos news
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?
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.”