Varsity Travel

Tyler Tummolo, owner of Winchester-based Varsity Travel, stands in one of his 13 empty buses on Saturday.

WINCHESTER — Tyler Tummolo served as a gunner overseas during war time in Afghanistan, but even that, he said, doesn't compare to the stress he’s facing as he’s trying to keep his business afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tummolo owns Varsity Travel, a bus company in Winchester that specializes in day trips. He took over the business a few years back and things had been business as usual even as the previous owners, the Shrocks, had moved on.

But then the week of March 9 hit.

Concerns about COVID-19 had spread throughout the country and they were beginning to make their way to Virginia. Tummolo began receiving a few calls from customers wanting to cancel their bookings.

“From that point on, it really started to escalate. That Friday was the day we started questioning things,” Tummolo said.

By March 13, Travel Varsity had seen a 50% reduction in its bookings for March and April.

By Monday, “when everyone had the weekend to think and see where everything was going,” that percentage began to hastily rise. Tummolo had to put his entire staff on temporary furlough, leaving just him to run the business.

By March 20, he’d lost 100% of his bookings for April, May and June.

“Unfortunately the hysteria behind everything and the uncertainty of it is what is really getting people to worry,” he said on Friday. “The majority of the people we shuttle around are schools and a lot of the schools could end up completely shut down, so I understand. We have a lot of elderly groups and churches and most of them have decided to shut down as well. Some of them have left deposits, which usually help fund us through the slower months, but now we’re having to use it now.”

Tummolo described the last two weeks as “the worst thing that has happened to this company.”

In the midst of the crisis, Tummolo has been trying to repurpose his 13 motor coaches to help keep the business afloat. He solicited ideas on Facebook and has been calling businesses to see if somehow his buses could be of service.

“Amazon was talking to us for a little while, but their concern was getting things in and out on a pallet. That’s the hard part. We’re trying to get as creative as possible, but it’s really not looking too great,” he said. “We’ve had 100% of our bookings completely go away for April, May and June, which are our busiest months. So, we are trying everything to survive. We’ve got all these different vehicles and nothing to do with them. There’s a need for transportation, so I want to provide that.”

Tummolo has taken all the seats out of one bus already and has been brainstorming uses for the interior.

If anyone has a use for one of the buses, you can contact Tummolo via email at tyler@travelvarsity.com or call 540-678-2871.

The transportation industry nationwide has taken a hit, but Tummolo said oftentimes motor coaches are overlooked in the national picture.

“There are airlines that are very important who are essentially going to be bailed out during these types of things, but the motor coach industry can be completely overlooked,” he said. “In the transportation industry, (motor coaches) are like the red-headed step child.”

That’s prompted a search for any motor coach-related assistance package, to which has been unsuccessful as of Saturday.

In the meantime, Tummolo is trying to find any funding to get his employees a continual paycheck.

“I’m the only employee and one day I had 500 cancellations, so that was the point where I was like, ‘I’ve got 30 people who rely on me to have a paycheck.’ I’m trying to do everything I can to provide them that paycheck and make sure their homes don't get foreclosed on,” he said. “There are some things being talked about, like stimulus packages, but those things are uncertain. I feel like it’s my job to provide in any way, shape or form.”

Tummolo said he spent most of the day Friday filling out applications for assistance.

“We have no idea when we will get any funding,” he said. “The web pages were so overloaded that it took from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to fill out one application. Normally, I’m sure that would take, like, 8 minutes.”

Even having been in the midst of gunfire in Afghanistan,Tummolo said, “This is 10 times more stressful than that for me. I haven’t slept since this all really started. The entire company is me now, so I’m working a lot harder than I was before to make up for 30 employees. It definitely has been a high-stress situation.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com.

(4) comments

ralcabin

Shame you can't shuttle shoppers to all the large stores that are open, you would probably stay busy, as a shuttle service to them. They are busy.

Mark Gunderman

We live in an enchanting valley comprised of generally kind, generous, loyal and noble people. I have found people here to be resourceful and possessing a reverence for Church, nature and history. We are a praying community and I believe our elected representatives will show wisdom in their legislation, judgments and activities.

Wahoo

Agreed, Anon. I’m impressed by his ability to dramatically rethink his whole business model. Nearly all small businesses are wondering how we’re going to make our next payroll, let alone rent and next month’s expenses. Major corporations do not need the help and are not as vital to our community as much as small business - that’s who should be getting assistance from the Feds (along with our employees).

anon

I feel for him and his anxiety. As a business owner I am in the same situation. I disagree about the "hysteria" comment because it is all about the math and exponential spread. Best of luck

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