"Miss Buffalo" trying to navigate uncharted waters as the "non-essential essentials"

Posted at 4:00 AM, May 15, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Friday marks a very important milestone in the pandemic shutdown. Some non-essential businesses will become essential once again.

Throughout this entire quarantine, one long-standing Buffalo business has found itself working for the future, but unable to make any real money.

They are the non-essential essentials.

Right now, the Miss Buffalo II is docked and tied to the wall. It sits idle under the Skyway. The next destination is unknown.

"Everything is a big question mark. Everything's on hold," said Ryan Hayhurst, President of Buffalo Harbor Cruises.

The Miss Buffalo brand has been in Hayhurst's family for decades. But this year, their 49th, is in jeopardy because of the pandemic's closures.

"Winter, we rely on what we make in the summertime and it just gets us through to get back into the summertime. So if we don't have a summer, I mean... lots of balls are up in the air and we're doing our best to stay positive," Hayhurst said

The silver lining is they're considered "essential" because it's a transportation-based business. But their business of crowds and charters is, at the moment, non-essential.

"By transportation, it's like that category, we are required to maintain the vessel," Hayhurst said.

"We're hoping in the next few weeks, to bring back a lot of our staff, get them painting, get them doing maintenance work for us, so we are ready when this opens back up," said General Manager Lisa Ellen Cooper.

When they'll be able to host charters and parties again is a worry for Cooper. She knows, down to the penny, the cost of operation.

"The reality of it is, it's a big boat. If it goes to half capacity, it might not be financially do-able anymore," Cooper said.

The crew is having to think big to stay afloat. They're considering an extended season, into September, in otherwise uncharted waters.

"The weather the past few years in September has been amazing. Our public cruises end Labor Day. We're thinking about extending that if it's possible," Cooper said.

"It's an unusual time. It's never going to be the same. Life as we know it will never be the same," Hayhurst said.

Hayhurst says he's using money from the Paycheck Protection Program to pay his workers, having them come back to work, rather than having them file for unemployment. He's calling it incentive pay, so they have an immediate job when this is all over.

He says he's not giving up hope for a semblance of a season.