Thursday, December 11, 2008

Biss Tours to Return $350,000 to Customers by Ben Hogwood - Queens Chronicle

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A tour bus company based out of Rego Park that went out of business in 2007 has finally agreed to refund all customers that prepaid for trips the company later cancelled.

In August 2007, Biss Tours shut down without giving notice to its customers, then failed to give nearly $350,000 in refunds to more than 1,000 people.

The agreement, which will see each customer fully refunded, came about after a joint effort by the state attorney general’s office and the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The deal was spurred on by 100 complaints from customers filed with the Better Business Bureau and another 50 filed with the attorney general.

“These hard-working New Yorkers who saved and paid for vacations deserve their money back and we’re pleased to have been able to get it for them,” said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Cindy Mintz in a prepared statement.

Biss Tours coordinated North American bus excursions by chartering private, third-party buses. Packages ranged from day trips to Philadelphia to 20-day cross-country trips. In August, Biss stopped making advance payments to its bus provider, and the provider cut off its supply of tour buses.

Virginia Stank of Ozone Park was one of those customers that lost money to Biss. She had been a customer for about 15 years and, until the business shut down, had been happy with it. “They had to have known they were having problems,” she said. “I feel that what they did was criminal.”

The store front is now long gone. The blue and yellow bus sign that used to perch on the business’s entrance has been replaced by a fixture advertising the skateboarding store below.

While Martin Elson, the founder of the company, could not be reached for comment, it is believed Biss overextended itself after purchasing Parker Tours, a similar bus company operating on Long Island.

According to a previous article published in the Queens Chronicle, Elson borrowed heavily to finance the purchase of Parker Tours. When business began to drop off at Parker, it placed financial strain on Biss.
Then business at Biss dropped off.

Customers, of which many had been travelling with Biss for years, seemed more confused and sad than angry when the business shut down. “I’ll miss them,” said one patron of 20 years who wished not to give her name.

The attorney general’s office and Department of Consumer Affairs have identified affected consumers and are working through the BBB to distribute the funds. The exact amount of restitution will be determined after affected consumers make claims.

Those who have questions about refunds can call the BBB at a phone line dedicated to the Biss Restitution Fund: (212) 358-2857.