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Buffalo Grand shuts down, Ellicott lays off staff as hospitality industry gets hammered

The Buffalo Grand Hotel became the biggest victim of the coronavirus outbreak's crippling impact on the travel industry, with Canadian owner Harry Stinson temporarily closing the city's largest hotel rather than absorb big losses by continuing to operate it with little business.

At the same time, Ellicott Development said it has laid off 220 workers at its hotels and restaurants because of the steep and sudden downturn in business.

Stinson said he hopes the Buffalo Grand Hotel can resume full operations on April 1.

"As you can appreciate, all events of any size and any group travel has been canceled, and our operational staff is quite large," Stinson said. "We have more staff on duty than is allowed in one place at one time.

"Any hotel would want to close temporarily but major brands are reluctant to do so. We are independent and can make the decision," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, CEOs of major hotel chains and trade groups met at the White House to plead for financial help for the industry as travel ground to a virtual halt, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Already, 4 million jobs have been eliminated or are on the verge of being cut, as occupancy falls below 20 percent in major cities, the group said.

"It's not just a matter of cost," Stinson said. "A hotel is a magnet for the virus. Our customers are by definition travelers. The last thing we want to do is expose any guest and our staff to this condition."

In the meantime, Stinson said the Buffalo Grand was "referring guests temporarily to another hotel." He did not say which one, but William Paladino, Ellicott Development's CEO, confirmed that his company's Aloft hotel was getting business from the Buffalo Grand. Guests also were being referred to other local hotels, Buffalo Grand officials said.

However, the picture isn't much rosier for Ellicott's hospitality division, where business at its hotels and restaurants is down 80% or even 90%, Paladino said.

Paladino also said two of his restaurants – JT's Restaurant at 905 Elmwood Ave. and Hooked at the Wyndham Garden Buffalo Williamsville hotel on Main Street in Williamsville – will be shifting to takeout orders, in compliance with the new state mandate. That's also under consideration at a third Ellicott restaurant, Forty Thieves Kitchen & Bar, at 727 Elmwood.

But that means they don't need their full staff.

As a result, the company has laid off 70 hotel workers and 150 restaurant workers – including at the Aloft, its rooftop bar and its basement bowling alley. And there's "more coming," Paladino predicted, while expressing hope that the cuts are temporary.

"We're all in the same boat. Other hotels are closing their doors for the time being," he said. "There are some hotels with zero business. We're still trying to grab business where we can grab it."

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