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Thursday, March 23, 2023

House of Melanin, a Black-owned business in Oak Park, ‘barely holding on’ 3 years into pandemic

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In 2020, officials decided what Myeisha and Samuel Campbell had to offer wasn’t essential.

Three years later, the couple fears many people agree.

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The Maywood couple opened House of Melanin, a store specializing in hair care products for Black hair textures, on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park in 2018. Before COVID, they enjoyed becoming part of the fabric of the western suburb.

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“It felt good to be a part of the community and contribute to the surrounding communities,” said Myeisha Campbell, 37.

Three years into the growth of online ordering since 2020, their outlook has changed.

“Now, we’re barely holding on,” she said.

The couple are making a last bet by hiring a marketing manager, but they are preparing in case it doesn’t work out.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get that traffic back to where it needs to be,” Myeisha Campbell said. “If that isn’t successful, then we’ll have to close the doors. It’s too expensive.”

The Sun-Times first spoke with the couple in 2020 before the stay-at-home order was lifted.

They planned to add delivery and curbside pickup for online orders but worried the remote approach could hurt sales.

“People need to touch and smell some products, and that is not really an experience you can get online,” Myeisha Campbell said then.

The couple had built the store, at 262 Chicago Ave., on face-to-face exchanges.

“It sounds like a thing of the past, but we were at music festivals, street festivals, the Silver Room party every year,” she said. “We would be able to print our fliers for dirt cheap, be able to look people in the eyes, have conversations with them.” 

They have since had less success reaching passersby on the street who have become more wary of interactions with strangers. 

Instead, customers have turned to cheaper companies and convenient services that can deliver quickly, said Samuel Campbell, 38. 

“They can charge so much less than we can,” he said. “They’re able to hold gigantic sales without it hurting them.”

Samuel Campbell, one of the owners of House of Melanin in Oak Park.

Samuel Campbell, one of the owners of House of Melanin in Oak Park, adjusts a display of hair care products.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The couple added online ordering but said it’s nearly impossible to compete with Amazon, Target and other online sellers.

Even marketing on social media has become hard. 

“In order to be seen, you gotta pay,” Myeisha Campbell said.

Instead of focusing on hair care, she spends time researching how to reach more people.

The couple originally got into the business to supply a need they felt was missing: informed care for the hair texture of African Americans.

“If you don’t have that hair texture and you’re not a licensed beautician, then you don’t really understand our hair type or texture to promote the products that we need for our hair,” Myeisha Campbell said. 

The couple’s business has lasted this long because of a few grants they received, including from the Village of Oak Park and the organization My Block, My Hood, My City. 

They are using the last of the funds to hire that marketing manager, but they fear people’s habits have changed for good.

“Pre-pandemic, quality of service was a very high priority,” Myeisha Campbell said. “Convenience has become a top priority.”

Samuel and Myeisha Campbell opened House of Melanin in Oak Park in 2018.

Samuel and Myeisha Campbell opened House of Melanin in Oak Park in 2018. The store was a success initially but has struggled since the pandemic.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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