Pandemic keeps Michigan City business owner in China for four months

NOW: Pandemic keeps Michigan City business owner in China for four months

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MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - Amazing Images is a store in Michigan City's Lighthouse Premium Outlets. It, like every other store there, had to close when the outlet mall did. Now that the mall has opened again, the store has partially re-opened, only operating two days a week because of a staff shortage. The store's owner, Hongyan Welch, has been stuck in China since January.

"She simply went home oblivious to the problems brewing in Wuhan," said Hongyan's husband Jim Welch. "That's about equivalent to the problems brewing in, let's say Tucson, Arizona from say Chicago. Anyway, it wasn't in her neck of the woods. She went to visit her family, her mother, more accurately, and it was just an unfortunate accident of timing."

Hongyan took the trip to China in January and planned to be back in the United States by February, but the Coronavirus and all of its travel restrictions hit while she was still there, voiding her round-trip ticket and cancelling her flight home.

"American Airlines and everything at the border were closed," Hongyan said. "So, I have to stay in China waiting until they open."

Both Hongyan and Jim have a plan to get her home, but it will not be cheap.

"The only airline open is Air China, and I have to pay several thousand dollars to go back home," Hongyan said.

With Hongyan in China and their daughter focusing on her college studies, Jim has been left to run the family store while also working a fulltime job.

"It simply means that I personally have to be there when I'm not there at my primary job at US Steel, but that usually means two days a week," Jim said.

Because of that and the prolonged closure when malls across the United States were closed, bills have been hard to pay for.

They got help when Lighthouse Premium Outlets’ owner Simon Malls waived April's rent.

Jim said nothing will stop him from paying for Hongyan's trip home.

"I will afford that," Jim said. "That's not an option. I have some amount of reserve I can draw upon, and we've got the bonus check that was sent to us by the government. That's 2400 dollars for both of us, and we've yet to file our taxes which we expect a return on that also."

The plan to get Hongyan home is already in motion. Jim said barring any setback she will be home by May 17th. Both Jim and Hongyan are optimistic that their store will remain in business.

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