Online furniture and home goods retailer Wayfair has moved out of the Bangor building that’s hosted its customer service center for the past five years, and its lease on the site will end in December.
The move out of the city-owned building by Bangor International Airport comes as the online retailer’s customer service employees have worked from their homes since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020.
Wayfair told Bangor officials this past March that the company didn’t plan to return employees to the call center and that it planned to terminate its lease in December, said Tanya Emery, Bangor’s director of community and economic development.
Wayfair’s move marks a major Bangor employer’s departure from office space in the city as the pandemic has accelerated a shift to remote work. The company had once said it planned to employ 450 people at the site, and the development was viewed as an economic boon for Bangor.
The city set aside $1 million to make upgrades to the space in 2016 before Wayfair moved in, including a new roof, sewage work and parking lot improvements.
Bangor later issued the company a $200,000 loan that the city forgave in October 2017, according to Emery. Employees at the Bangor center, which was once an L.L. Bean call center, answered customer questions over the phone and online, resolved problems and helped track the locations of items headed for customers’ homes.
Bangor employees joined the Boston-based company’s “virtual team” in the early spring as part of a hybrid model that the company plans to use as a long-term strategy, said Wayfair spokesperson Molly Delaney, who confirmed the office was now closed.
The company has more than 600 employees in Maine, with a “few hundred” based in Bangor before the pandemic, she said.
The company opened a site in Brunswick around the same time as the Bangor call center’s opening in 2016. It planned to employ 500 there as part of a specialized sales team.
The shift to the virtual team is not unique to Bangor. Wayfair had begun transitioning staff in a number of its locations across the U.S. to remote work, Emery said.
City officials have received a number of inquiries from potential tenants interested in taking over the property, and the city is working with Wayfair on a “successful turnover,” Emery said.
Wayfair and the city agreed to a lease of the city-owned property in February 2016, and Wayfair opened its customer service center there later that year.
The base rent for the company was $16,250 per month after the first two months it occupied the building, with the rent increasing to $17,725 monthly after five years.
The Bangor City Council issued Wayfair a $200,000 business development loan in August 2016, which the company requested to make building improvements, train its workforce and use as operating capital. Under the terms of the loan, the city could forgive annual loan payments if Wayfair created a total of 20 full-time positions, with 51 percent of those new positions filled by people from low-moderate income backgrounds, by the end of the seven-year loan term.
Staff at Wayfair’s Brunswick location, on the site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, had also gone remote since the beginning of the pandemic. But the company recently told the property owner that it intended to bring employees back when it was safe, said Jim Howard of Priority Real Estate, which owns the Wayfair property at 46 Burbank Ave.
“They’ve shown no interest in leaving the site,” Howard said. “I have no indication that they have any issues.”