Zappos opening leaves aside issue of housing for workers

There was a world-class wave and a world-record ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday during the zany opening of Zappos’ new headquarters in the plaza of the old Las Vegas city hall.

Company employees lined the walkways, filled the plaza to capacity and needed no encouragement in showing the love for Zappos’ executives and especially its soft-spoken, big-dreaming CEO, Tony Hsieh. During the festivities, Hsieh’s happy llama was upstaged by an appearance of the break-dancing Jabbawockeez. The place where some of us in the local newspaper racket over the years have chased troubled City Council members and controversial developers was transformed into a humid but giddy pep rally of approximately 1,600 gratefully employed citizens and their families.

After 2½ years and an estimated $8 million to transform the 4-decade-old government building, the online retailer has moved from the hinterlands of Henderson and now is officially based in downtown. And the crowd went wild. Who knew selling shoes on the Internet could be so exciting?

Area businesses, of course, figure to go a little wild, too. They’re bound to get a boost from the flood of Zappos employees into the area.

Those workers should be able to find places to eat and drink. It’s a safe, affordable place to stay that promises to be more of a challenge.

Zappos official Zach Ware sort of shrugged off the question. “From a housing standpoint, obviously, it’s challenging in any urban environment, and it’s continuing to evolve,” he said, offering that there was plenty of employee parking available downtown.

Which is true, but would seem to dilute the desired impact of having an army of new residents supporting businesses in the downtown corridor.

With the ribbon-cutting ceremony just minutes away, an ecstatic Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman reduced the housing issue to a one-liner.

“Oscar and I will open our home up,” she said. “We live in the neighborhood.”

You heard it, people: It’s a sleepover for 500 at Casa Goodman.

For his part, Hsieh admitted employee-housing issues haven’t been high on his radar. Then he noted a recent idea to put up a group of Zappos volunteers at the Gold Spike as a test.

Live in modest converted hotel rooms above a bar?

That sounds like a really bad idea, but then maybe I’m not yet feeling the vibe and seeing the big picture.

With all the cheering going on, it certainly wasn’t an afternoon for negativity.

But to give you an idea of how much the conversation has changed downtown, consider that only a few years ago the area surrounding Fremont Street was so blighted that many down-and-out residents couldn’t afford shoes, much less dream of selling them in a bustling business. If the new downtown remains more a big idea than a bona fide success story, at least a new chapter is now being written.

Former Mayor Oscar Goodman, who happened to be traveling with a glass of gin – and what are the odds of that happening? — sounded a little like a proud father at a bar mitzvah as he addressed Hsieh. The martini mayor barely stopped short of saying, “Today you are a man, my son.”

“I’m going to lift my glass and say, ‘Cheers to Zappos, cheers to Zappos’ presence in downtown Las Vegas,’ ” Goodman said. “May this be the first day of the rest of Zappos’ life. I bid you nothing but success in creating the critical mass that downtown Las Vegas really needed in order to become the city that we envisioned over the years. We’ve got all the infrastructure in place … and now we have the people who are going to enjoy the experience of downtown Las Vegas in this wonderful, historical building.”

Too bad that wonderful, historical building lacks a few hundred apartments.

From all appearances the new Zappos headquarters is a nice place to work downtown, but do they really want to live there?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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