As part of an effort to raise its visibility as a corporate citizen, Amazon is offering tours of selected parts of its South Lake Union campus, giving glimpses of employees, dogs and corporate bric-a-brac.
Amazon.com is now letting curious strangers take a guided peek at its South Lake Union campus. It’s the latest sign that the tech juggernaut, which is changing the urban dynamic of Seattle, aims to be better understood by its neighbors.
The company is offering two tours weekly — both on Wednesdays, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. — gathering groups of some 10 people and lasting about an hour.
Demand has been brisk: As the word spread since the program began this month, tours were booked through October on the online booking site. But there’s an online waiting list if any spots open up. The tours will be offered between January and October.
It’s not the first time Amazon has opened its facilities to outsiders. For a couple of years Amazon has offered tours of some of its gargantuan, product-filled warehouses.
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But it’s only since the first week of July that the company has been providing some public access to the corporate bosom, where its most powerful executives including CEO Jeff Bezos (who works at an officially undisclosed location), have their offices.
It’s part of a recent trend of Amazon decisions, such as letting a nonprofit run a homeless shelter out of a company-owned building, that have heightened its visibility as a corporate citizen in a region that’s being transformed to the core by the company’s breakneck growth.
“Because we’ve grown so much, we want our customers to see what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Allison Flicker, the Amazon representative in charge of the tours.
The tours are heavy on explaining the sometimes quirky folklore cultivated by the company. Last Wednesday, as Flicker led a small group through six Amazon buildings, she explained the meaning behind the name of the Day 1 North building, on Terry Avenue, which stems from Bezos’ belief that “every day is Day 1 at Amazon.”
Other quirky building names include Fiona, the original code name for the Kindle e-reader; Rufus, named for a dog beloved of early Amazon employees; and Nessie, named for a software tool.
The décor in the buildings is also full of references to Amazon’s history. In Fiona, a collection of all versions of Kindle adorns a wall. In another building a bear skeleton stands as a memento of Amazon Auctions, a failed venture (the skeleton had been offered on that ill-fated platform, which was later replaced by the much more successful Amazon Marketplace). Now Amazonians drop coins and bills at the bear skeleton’s feet, perhaps wishing for a lucky venture.
Another highlight: A robotic arm at the Dawson building on Boren Avenue serves to illustrate the continuing automation of the Amazon fulfillment process.
The tour breezily takes visitors into the hallways of a couple of the office buildings, where, besides busy employees, there are plenty of dogs. But there isn’t a lot of lingering. “You can watch me in my natural habitat,” joked one Amazon employee as she went about her business.
Rob Scott, founder of Tourism Matters Media, an industry publishing firm, said he enrolled to see if it could become a landmark for visitors.
After all, he said, Amazon “is internationally famous.”