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Big Hollywood bus tours halt during coronavirus crisis, but small ones keep rolling

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
                                Most larger bus tours have closed, but many smaller ones remain in operation on Hollywood Boulevard.

    TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Most larger bus tours have closed, but many smaller ones remain in operation on Hollywood Boulevard.

LOS ANGELES >> Three major Hollywood tour companies suspended operations this week as worries mount over coronavirus transmission. But many other tour vans are still cruising the boulevard, seeking and finding customers.

“To tell you the truth, I’m doing better than any other day, because there’s nothing else for anyone to do,” Shellee-Ann Kellee said as she ushered half a dozen visitors into her red All Star Showbiz Tours van near the now-closed El Capitan Theatre.

TMZ Celebrity Tour Hollywood announced its temporary closure Friday morning. Starline Tours has suspended service until at least April 2. Big Bus Tours has also suspended operations.

But in the blocks surrounding the Hollywood & Highland mall and TCL Chinese Theatres (formerly Grauman’s), several vans were rolling on Tuesday.

Kellee called the closure of TMZ’s tours “a big opportunity” and said she had opened up her van’s windows to allow better air circulation. She didn’t think she was running afoul of any “social distancing” warnings from the governor or mayor.

In front of El Capitan Theatre, an open-topped blue van marked Hollywood Open Tours idled with about 10 passengers. Across the street at the Chinese Theatre, a young bearded tourist put a playful headlock on a man in a Spider-Man suit while a man in a Mickey Mouse outfit snapped photos.

Within two blocks, vans from at least three companies waited for customers, a trickle of tourists browsed the stars on the Walk of Fame (some wearing masks) and a street-corner preacher hollered into a megaphone about immorality.

Most restaurants and bars on the boulevard were closed last week, as was the Pantages Theatre, whose sign said, “We’ll be back!”

Also closed: the Hollywood Wax Museum. (The Museum of Death is closed too, but it shut down in early February. Leaders said it would relocate.)

The burger joint Tommy’s was open for takeout orders, as was the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop in the Hollywood & Highland mall. But not much else.

“Virtually everything else in Hollywood and entertainment is closed. We’re open,” said Jeff Napshin, owner of Star Track Tours, adding, “We’re trying to keep everything as clean as possible.” Because his company’s four vans have open windows, Napshin said, “It’s not an enclosed environment.”

To break even each day, he said, “We need to do two tours. We’ve done one so far today.”

Knowing that any business that shuts down completely “is going to be bleeding money,” Napshin said, he’s been paying close attention to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning against gatherings of 50 people or more, and the president’s call for no more than 10 people in a gathering.

“Our tours have a maximum of 13 people and most are between seven and 10,” Napshin said. Tuesday morning’s group, he added, was eight.

“People don’t want to sit at home all day,” Napshin said. “They just don’t.”

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