A walking tour of Amazon's future New York neighborhood
When Google moved to New York, it went to Manhattan, like most tourists do.
Amazon took a different route. It set up shop across the river, in a neighborhood called Long Island City, in Queens.
KUOW’s Joshua McNichols went to check it out.
My guide is Jack Eichenbaum, a geography expert who gives tours around New York. He taught at the University of Washington in the 1970s, but he returned to Queens, which he loves. He calls it "the real New York."
We start at the Court Square Diner, a tiny jewel box of a restaurant from 1946 full of chrome and coconut cream pies.
The restaurant is tucked underneath an elevated train line. It's one of several trains that rumble through the neighborhood.
After we finish eating, we head towards Amazon’s future campus. It could eventually cover 4-8 million square feet.
On the way, Eichenbaum points out some old industrial buildings from the early 20th Century. They’re being replaced by condos and apartments.
“Why should we care about old industrial buildings being torn down?” I asked him.
“Well, some people may see it as progress," he said. "It’s housing for people who can afford it.”
We pass an old factory that used to manufacture plastics. It’s one of many buildings in the area Amazon will soon take over.
There’s an art gallery inside now. The gallery’s manager is Norma Homberg.
She said the old plastics company was a patron of the arts. They encouraged artists to try making art out of plastic, on the company’s specialized equipment.
“They have an art show every year, where they invite 10 artists," she said. "It’s called Plastique.”
Homberg said other groups share the space, too: a PTA, a local theater company, an alcoholics anonymous group. She worries that Amazon won’t support the community in the same way.
“I do believe they want to work with us further," she said. "So I’m trying to stay positive.”
Amazon will bring a fresh wave of development to this neighborhood, but it’s not the first time people here have seen this. New York officials have been trying to turn this into a little downtown for years.
Citibank had a tower here, which Amazon will soon move into. And while more development may be bad for artists, it could be good for other kinds of businesses.
Myo Lin Thwey has been selling Burmese food on the street to the workers at the Citibank tower. He has room for just a small selection of foods in his cart.
“My favorite is chicken curry palata," he said. "It is a little bit messy to eat, so most people avoid it for that reason. But it’s so delicious. You should try it.”
He’s sad to lose his Citibank customers. But he’d be happy to serve lunch to Amazon workers.
“The good thing is they’re going to be well-paid people," he said. "So they are going to have money to spend. Hopefully they won’t bring a lot of lunchboxes from their home.”
Long Island City has been changing for years. But this project is something new.
“It’s going to be a lot at once,” said my tour guide Eichenbaum.
Amazon could change this place on a scale and at a pace that makes it hard to plan.