Amazon is bringing new life to its spot on Santa Barbara’s State Street.
The Seattle-based tech giant began occupying renovated space at 1001 State St. on Jan. 6, when the door opened to the 46,800-square-foot former Saks Fifth Avenue building Amazon has been leasing since 2018.
Balloons and mimosas welcomed new Amazon employees to the former store. A representative for the company said it has more than 100 workers in the Santa Barbara area, with more than 40 open job listings.
Guido Oppizzi, who owns OPPI’Z Bistro and Natural Pizza, said he’s heard more Amazon employees are coming, with an expected number eventually reaching between 250 and 300 people.
Oppizzi’s is usually closed on Mondays, but it opened on Jan. 6 to greet its new neighbor’s employees. There’s a small sign outside the restaurant welcoming Amazon to the neighborhood, and Oppizzi saw a few people from the e-retailer before the bistro closed up.
Oppizzi, who has a background in IT, is hopeful about what Amazon’s opening is going to bring to the area. “I really believe (Amazon) can bring movement,” Oppizzi said.
He’s not the only one who thinks Amazon will have an impact. Peter Rupert, professor of economics and director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project, predicts Amazon’s presence will have its own network effect, luring other companies to Santa Barbara.
Many of the job postings for the Santa Barbara office include working with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant. Additionally, many of the employees already working at the Santa Barbara office came from Graphiq, a Santa Barbara-based data analytics and search engine startup Amazon acquired in 2017. As Amazon settles into the area, Rupert expects to see other businesses like spinoffs and startups show up.
Amazon has already established itself as a major economic player in other parts of the tri-county area. Mike Manchak, president and CEO of the Economic Vitality Corp. in San Luis Obispo, has seen how the online giant has brought jobs to the area and raised expectations on compensation.
Amazon has a programming hub in the city, where engineers work on the company’s web services, Kindle and cloud technologies.
“We remain very excited about the impact (Amazon has) made,” Manchak said. “It’s causing San Luis Obispo to be on the map, from a tech industry perspective.”
Manchak called Amazon “great corporate citizens,” and said the corporation is mindful about contributing to the local economy and community.
“I think Santa Barbara will be well-served by having a company like (Amazon) in the community,” Manchak said.
Amazon has already started supporting events within Santa Barbara. The company is a sponsor for First Thursdays, a monthly event which features visual and performing arts around Santa Barbara.
Mark Aguilar, business liaison for the city of Santa Barbara, said he is glad the company is jumping in as a sponsor for First Thursday, but he’s more appreciative of how Amazon’s presence is changing State Street itself.
Before Amazon, the space was home to Saks Fifth Avenue and then a Saks Off 5th before that store went out. Amazon’s presence, by converting the empty retail to office, is diversifying the area.
He acknowledged there’s already a glut of shopping opportunities on State Street, to the point where retail and restaurant vacancies have become the talk of downtown. Instead of competition, new office space brings customers to the stores and restaurants around the area.
“I think the whole downtown benefits,” Aguilar said.
Amazon will be watched closely as it settles in. Other non-retail concepts have been proposed for vacant large areas along State Street, including mixed use and residential proposals, and those proposals may gain strength from seeing a proof of concept.
“Maybe this is a small step back to the balance that re-strengthens our downtown’s balance,” Aguilar said.
— Contact Amber Hair at [email protected]