Battered by pandemic, Biever Travel to close

Owner Jim Biever, whose family has had a presense in downtown Port for 80 years, says uncertainty caused by health crisis prompted decision

BIEVER TRAVEL OWNER Jim Biever removed the sign for his business, which has operated out of a corner storefront at 131 E. Main St. in Port Washington for about 46 years. Biever announced he would be closing up shop Jan. 14 following an especially turbulent two years in the travel industry caused by the pandemic. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
CONNOR CARYNSKI
Ozaukee Press Staff

Port Washington’s Biever Travel Inc. will close its doors in January after helping Ozaukee County residents plan vacations for more than 46 years.

The travel agency, which has occupied the downtown corner office at Franklin St. and Main St. for decades, will close Jan. 14.  

The business was started in 1975 by Vernon Biever and his son Jim, who operates the store today. The Bievers have long had a presence in Port Washington, with Vernon’s father Emil opening the Ben Franklin department store next door in 1942.

The former Ben Franklin store is now occupied by the Shoppes of Port Washington at 123 N. Franklin St.

Jim Biever said the decision to close up shop was not easy but that the timing was right.

While the travel agency made do during the pandemic, Biever said, it certainly affected business.

“Travel agents are really a resilient group of people. We’ve gone through hurricanes and natural disasters, airline strikes, 9/11 shutdowns, aircraft groundings and things like Zika and Ebola, but ultimately the Covid-19 took its toll on us,” he said.

When news of the pandemic first started spreading, Biever said he and others in the industry hoped it would pass in several months and business would go back to usual. But nearly two years later, travel agents continue to juggle reservations with ever-changing travel restrictions and requirements.

Biever said the pandemic created a cloud of uncertainness around travel that persists today.

“It was not uncommon for us to have two, three even four bookings of the same reservations with people just pushing things further out,” he said. “It’s just become really difficult.”

With pandemic issues in mind, an agent planning to retire and a relatively low number of bookings, Biever said he and staff met to discuss the state of the business and decided to move on.

“If there ever was a good time it was going to be now,” he said.

Biever said he wanted to close at a time that would have the least impact on those Biever Travel has booked trips for.

While Biever Travel gift certificates must be redeemed by Jan. 14, any booking made through the company will be honored.

Biever said reservations have been transferred and will be handled by Travel Leaders Discovery in Sheboygan.

“If you have a booking with us, you can be confident you are still going to be taken care of,” he said. “I think everyone will be very happy with the transition.”

Having stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the business about five years ago, Biever thanked staff members Lori Dahm, Sarah Spievogel, Megan Anderson and Kris Roy for lending their expertise to the agency.

“They did a great job over the years,” he said. “If we combined all of our experience, we had well over 100 years in the travel business.”

Biever said many families have planned vacations for two or three generations, and that he has enjoyed getting to know them.

“Being a lifelong resident here, it was just a joy to work with all of our customers,” he said. “I’ll be forever grateful to all our wonderful customers. I know I’m going to miss it. It’s a fun business but, in the last year and a half, it hasn’t been that fun.”

While stepping away from the business won’t be easy, Biever said he will keep busy selling vintage photos of the Green Bay Packers.

Biever started photographing Packer games at a young age and eventually landed a position as the team’s official photographer, a spot he held for 35 years. Biever followed in the footsteps of his father, who worked as the team’s official photographer from 1946 to 2008. Vernon, who died in 2010, was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame 2002.

Today, Biever sells rights for many of the historical photos to be used in books, articles and websites throughout the world.

Biever said his lease in the prominent, downtown storefront at 131 E. Main St. will run until September, and he expects the space to be filled soon after handing in the keys.

“It’s the best corner in downtown, so I’m sure it’s going to go fast,” he said.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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