Chinese imports to Houston impacted by coronavirus epidemic

While cases of the coronavirus surge in China, city-wide lockdowns have left factories empty, and some that were scheduled to reopen in mid-February have had their dates postponed to March.

However, very little is guaranteed, and the disease is having another impact on imports to Houston.

For basement bargains and wholesale deals, Harwin Drive usually has an abundance of imported goods, but with the closures from coronavirus, some things are becoming hard to find.

Store owners say recent tariffs were already raising prices; now, shoppers may also be disappointed with what's in stock.

"We’re worried," says Dylan of Trendy Jewelry. "We never have enough stuff, you know, and the customer wants new stuff to come in." He also distributes to other stores in the area. "We deal with three to four hundred retail stores. We are all waiting for us to get new stuff, and they’re all affected by it."

MORE: Coronavirus rumors cause layoffs and closures in Chinatown

Hair is another major import to the Houston-area for its thousands of stylists, beauty supply stores and wig makers.

"I haven’t been able to get any inventory- it’s at a standstill," says Michelle Valentino of Valentino Virgin Hair. She rents booths to stylists in her shop, but her main source of income is sales of wigs and weaves.

"Even with Chinese New Year going on, I received numerous emails and texts from my vendors letting me know that I will not be able to receive any shipments until after they get cleared by the government." 

Shutdowns have also led to a shortage in fashion. With some high school proms less than two months away, designers are urging clients to make decisions during fabric shipment delays.

"This is also right after the Chinese holiday, so they were already shut down for a few weeks, and then the coronavirus came right after that," says designer Dominique Vinae of All Things Vinae. She creates custom gowns for local celebrities and Real Housewives. She is now fulfilling orders for prom season and says one of her suppliers had to cancel her shipment. "This particular vendor was just like, 'I’m going to refund you your money because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ship it to you'," she says.

Back on Harwin Dr., custom dresses ordered from China are also putting wedding dreams in jeopardy.

Solomon Varani is scrambling to get a wedding gown for one customer who is walking down the aisle on March 3. "Her order was placed in December. We cannot get the dress in, and we have no clue what we’re going to do," he says.

Once production starts, Chinese suppliers will have to face a backlog of demands, forcing some local shops to reconsider where they are buying. 

"We will have to see if we can get these done locally, but then the cost will go up. So now, we have to pass it on to the consumer,"  says Varani.

He and other store owners advise shoppers to try to find what they want on the rack, and if an order must be placed in China, they should have a backup plan.