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WATCH NOW: Anonymous donor pays business's rent through April to keep it alive during pandemic
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WATCH NOW: Anonymous donor pays business's rent through April to keep it alive during pandemic

MICHIGAN CITY — Hats off to an anonymous donor who stepped in to pay the rent of Chef Bizzaro Millinery in downtown Michigan City through April, allowing it to survive longer to see if it can make it out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owner Amanda Joyner thanked the benefactor in a tearful video posted on Instagram.

"I don't even know what to say. Someone just paid my rent for my shop, so I could keep making hats there through April," she said. "Whoever you are, thank you. Thanks, I really appreciate. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart thank you. It was going to suck leaving. I had come to terms with it, but like ... thank you so much whoever you are, thank you. I don't even know what to say."

Chef Bizzaro Millinery sells hand-made hats, fascinators and quirky headware at 717 Franklin St. in the Artspace Uptown Artist Lofts. After having built a clientele through Etsy, the business sells its hats all over the world, including to attendees of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, British weddings and other formal occasions.

Joyner's many creations include fedoras, perchers, pillbox hats, cocktail hats, flight caps and Halloween costumes that include a swirling deck of cards, demon horns and an Edward Scissorhands topiary headpiece.

"I had been considering whether to keep the shop. It's been tough with COVID-19 and when you can have only two customers in the store at a time," Joyner said. "Then a couple of weeks ago my business partner Julia Nielsen with The Closet By Franklin Vintage told me someone paid my rent through April 'because they really believe in you and your work.' She won't tell me who and she's good at keeping secrets."

Joyner has secured a Small Business Administration loan and grant to pay the rent through January, but it's been rough, especially since her husband lost his job at the Four Winds Casino.

"Customer orders have been falling off," she said. "People aren't having events like weddings or Kentucky Derby parties at casinos. I've been talking to other milliners around the world and many are retiring because there's no business because of COVID-19."

Chef Bizzaro Millinery hosts frequent classes, such as on how to make hats and ugly Christmas sweater headbands, both in the store and Chicago. But that end of the business has dried up as well.

"We lost an entire summer of classes," she said. "Many weddings and events were cancelled or postponed. We lost our usual sources of regular income. It's really scary."

Joyner said she had been resigning herself to the closure, but is now switching gears to making what hats she can. She plans to focus on Kentucky Derby hats and high fashion pieces, as well as any custom orders that come in.

"We do everything from everyday wear to avant-garde," she said. 

But she's not sure if there will be enough business to save her millinery shop. She is averse to borrowing any more from the SBA as the new loans passed in the latest coronavirus relief package are not forgivable and must eventually be repaid, and lenders will look at the depressed income of her business over the past year.

"It's really amazing for someone to do a gesture like this," she said. "I'll be able to hold on a little longer. But hopefully the virus gets under control enough to where people start going to events and feel safe enough to spend money. People are holding onto every penny right now."

She encouraged people to support the small businesses they would like to see stick around.

"We're struggling like so many of the businesses in the Uptown Arts District," she said. "Everyone's hurting right now. It's a scary time for everyone. You put everything into your dreams and are not sure how it will turn out... It's a hard time for everybody, so it's really a time to support small businesses. Even buying a gift card can make a huge difference in keeping the lights on."

For more information, visit www.chefbizzaro.com or call 219-395-6266.

Gallery: A walk through downtown Michigan City

Gallery: A walk through downtown Michigan City

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Owner Kristal Taschler makes a mint Oreo meal replacement shake at Stay Healthy in downtown Michigan City.

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Michigan City residents Michael Comer, left, and Cameron Wiles shop at the Line Mullins Group Interior shop in downtown Michigan City.

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Michigan City residents Pat Collado, left, and Shelley Dunleavy admire some of the possibilities as they shop for a gift at Ballyea, an Irish-…

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KC Mars and his wife Mariceli Paz are the owners of Static Age Music and Gifts in downtown Michigan City.

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Unsalted No Sharks in downtown Michigan City has decor with relics from Michigan City's past such as this shipping box from Smith Brothers Cou…

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The Patina Vintage Goods store encourages folks to shop in downtown Michigan City.

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The Line Mullins Group Interior shop in downtown Michigan City

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This is a look at some of the items available at Unsalted No Sharks in downtown Michigan City.

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Owner Kristal Taschler makes a mint Oreo meal replacement shake at Stay Healthy in downtown Michigan City.

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SFC Gallery in downtown Michigan City

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Gary Gibson is the co-owner of Ballyea, an Irish-themed gift shop in downtown Michigan City.

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Unsalted No Sharks in downtown Michigan City has decor with relics from Michigan City's past such as this canoe hanging overhead.

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There's a mixture of old and new in downtown Michigan City. This is sculpture called Faust by John Sauve frames the Trinity Episcopal Church.

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Parking is a concern of many shop owners in downtown Michigan City.

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The Canterbury Theatre is located on Franklin Street in downtown Michigan City.

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Static Age Music and Gifts in downtown Michigan City features vinyl records as well as a collection of obscure gifts.

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Vinyl records are making a comeback and can be found at Static Age Music and Gifts in downtown Michigan City.

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Unsalted No Sharks in downtown Michigan City features a variety of items for sale.

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Window display at Hoity Toity Home Decor

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Kristina Knowski is the manager and designer at SFC Gallery in downtown Michigan City.

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Tyler Hunt of Unsalted No Sharks talks about business in downtown Michigan City.

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A variety of items are available at the Line Mullins Group Interior shop in downtown Michigan City.

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Stay Healthy is a nutritional bar in downtown Michigan City.

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Tyler Hunt of Unsalted No Sharks talks about business in downtown Michigan City.

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"Libretto" is just one of the several art sculptures in downtown Michigan City.

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SFC Gallery in downtown Michigan City

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Michigan City residents Pat Collado, left, and Shelley Dunleavy shop for a gift at Ballyea, an Irish-themed gift shop in downtown Michigan City.

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Vinyl records are making a comeback and can be found at Static Age Music and Gifts in downtown Michigan City.

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The Leeds Public House on Franklin Street is in the shadow of NIPSCO's cooling tower.

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"Libretto" is just one of the several art sculptures in downtown Michigan City.

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Signs help give the story of Michigan City's historic district.

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A sign points the way to the FLUID Coffee Lounge on Franklin Street in downtown Michigan City.

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Signs point the way to things to do in downtown Michigan City.

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The Leeds Public House on Franklin Street is in the shadow of NIPSCO's cooling tower.

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Ming Washington of Michigan City relaxes at the FLUID Coffee Lounge during her winter break from college in Atlanta.

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Signs point the way in downtown Michigan City.

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Leeds Public House on Franklin Street

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The South Shore Line's Double Track project is expected to draw new residents to Michigan City. Developers are already moving to provide new h…

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The St. Paul Lutheran Church is in the heart of the Franklin Street Commercial Historic District.

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Hokkaido Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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