House of Melanin, a Black-owned Oak Park business ‘barely holding out’ 3 years into the pandemic.
In 2020, officials decided that what Myeisha and Samuel Campbell had to offer was not substantial.
Three years later, the couple fear many people agree.
In 2018, the Maywood couple opened House of Melanin, a store specializing in hair care products for black hair textures, on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. Before COVID, they enjoyed becoming part of the fabric of the western suburb.
“It felt good to be a part of the community and to contribute to the surrounding communities,” said Myeisha Campbell, 37.
Three years after the growth of online ordering since 2020, their outlook has changed.
“Now we’re barely holding on,” she said.
The couple make one last bet by hiring a marketing manager, but prepare in case it doesn’t work out.
“Hopefully we can get that traffic back to where it’s needed,” said Myeisha Campbell. “If that doesn’t work, we have to close the doors. It is too expensive.”
The Sun-Times first spoke to the couple in 2020 before the stay-at-home orders were lifted.
They planned to add delivery and curbside pickup for online orders, but worried the remote approach could hurt sales.
“People have to touch and smell some products, and that’s not really an experience you can have online,” Myeisha Campbell said at the time.
The couple had the store at 262 Chicago Ave. established in personal exchange.
“It sounds like a thing of the past, but we’ve been to music festivals, street fairs, the Silver Room Party every year,” she said. “We could print our flyers dirt cheap, look people in the eye and talk to them.”
Since then, they’ve had less success reaching out to passers-by on the street, who have become more wary of interacting 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 are able to generate gigantic sales without it harming them.”
Samuel Campbell, one of the owners of the House of Melanin in Oak Park, adapts a display of hair care products.
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times
The couple added online ordering but said it was almost impossible to compete with Amazon, Target and other online sellers.
Marketing on social media has also become difficult.
“You have to pay to be seen,” 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 fill a need they felt was missing: informed care for African American hair texture.
“If you don’t have that hair texture and you’re not a licensed esthetician, then you don’t really understand our hair type or hair texture to promote the products that we need for our hair,” Myeisha Campbell said.
The pair have lasted this long because they have received a number of grants, including from the Village of Oak Park and the organization My Block, My Hood, My City.
They are using the last resort to hire this marketing manager, but they fear that people’s habits have changed for good.
“Before the pandemic, quality of service was a very high priority,” said Myeisha Campbell. “Convenience has top priority.”
Samuel and Myeisha Campbell opened the House of Melanin in Oak Park in 2018. The business was initially a success but has struggled since the pandemic.
Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times on Report for America, a nonprofit journalism program aimed at increasing the newspaper’s coverage of South Side and West Side communities.