Fort Ripley couple parks coach bus, struggles through pandemic
“It was a good enough business to be in but now it’s tough, especially since COVID. I mean we're totally parched. There's zero dollars coming in, and we still have expenses," Wally Thesing of Wally Thesing Tours said.
Husband-wife duo Wally and Joan Thesing have operated their small, family owned business for the past 23 years.
They have never experienced any hardships like they have in 2020.
The Thesings of Wally Thesing Tours own and operate a 55-passenger motor coach bus. They bus their customers to and from casinos in Minnesota and surrounding areas, typically for a day trip. Like many businesses in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has hit them hard. With the governor’s executive orders restricting large gatherings and temporarily closing business — along with promoting social distancing — their bus now has to stay parked at their Fort Ripley home.
The couple began their business in 1997. Wally Thesing said the day trips where they bus people to casinos closer to the Brainerd lakes area, such as Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia and Northern Lights Casino in Walker, were always very popular with people. They would get up to 50 people per trip and did about five or six trips a week. During the later years of the business and before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of day trips decreased to about two to three day trips a week with an average of 25-30 people per trip.
“The day trips were nice little trips and people liked them because they were short and not a long day,” Wally Thesing said. “They (the casinos) offered a good bus package so people did quite well on it.”
The Thesings also did overnight bus trips to casinos further away such as Jackpot Junction Casino in Morton, Minnesota, Palace Casino Hotel in Cass Lake, Minnesota, and Hotel Spirit Lake Casino and Dakota Magic Casino, both in North Dakota. However, these trips were not as popular as the day trips.
“We had a bigger clientele list, but now the demand just isn’t there like it was when we first started the business. Things have tapered off and I don’t know what it is. Not sure if it’s the casinos, in that they changed the way they do their business, or what it is.”
Thesing said when they started their business the casinos had great packages for people who took the bus trips. The couple negotiated with the casinos on budget packages to get people to go to the casinos.
“It was a win-win situation,” Wally Thesing said. “We did advertising and put out our schedule every week.
“It was a good enough business to be in but now it’s tough, especially since COVID. I mean we're totally parched. There's zero dollars coming in, and we still have expenses. We still have to keep the bus insured, we still have to keep it registered with the state of Minnesota, we still have to keep up on all of those types of things. There's several different things with the state and the federal (government) to keep up with so it's an expense while we have no money coming in. ... We have zero income right now and that makes it rough.”
Wally and Joan Thesing, who are ages 74 and 73, respectively, are semi-retired, but would like to keep the business running or at least hand the business down to one of their six children. They also have 12 grandchildren.
Wally Thesing said they were eligible for some small business loans, but he said the problem is if they don’t have any income coming in how will they pay back the loan.
“You still have to service that loan sooner or later,” he said. “We don’t want to start back up with a great pile of debt.”
Wally Thesing said he still drives buses for Reichert Bus Service occasionally when they need someone. He began driving buses back in the ‘90s and he enjoys it.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Thesing said. “I’m not sure where we will be heading in the next year or two with this whole situation. I really don’t know.”
JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.