BRIDGEPORT — Just over three years ago, Nagi Soliman moved from Naperville to Bridgeport to run a dry cleaners in the strip mall just north of 31st and Halsted.
It didn’t take long for Soliman to notice that the Xxpress Cleaners at 3026 S. Halsted St. was surrounded by a lot of homeless people. Like patrons of the businesses in the bustling strip mall, Soliman often was asked for spare change or something to eat — but giving a dollar here and there didn’t feel like enough.
So, he decided he wanted to do something more substantial for the neighborhood’s homeless population. In December, his business began offering free dry cleaning services for any homeless person who has a job interview.
Soliman said he has done free dry cleaning for 30 to 40 homeless people since December, and the policy has been a win-win for his customers and his business.
“They’re impressed, happy, surprised,” Soliman said. “I actually like that. I feel we’re helping them. And if they get a job, then they’ll bring their clothes back here.”
The first person to take advantage of the offer came about three weeks after Soliman announced it with a sign in the window. She was a woman who had an upcoming interview with the Illinois Tollway, he said.
“She asked me, ‘Are you really doing this?’” he said.
To verify the interview, all Soliman asks to see is an email from the potential employer to the candidate.
After helping run his family’s dry cleaners businesses in the suburbs, Soliman, 33, jumped at the opportunity to go into business for himself and achieve a goal he has had since immigrating to the U.S. from Egypt in 2010.
Once he achieved his dream of owning a business in America, Soliman said he wanted to be able to give back to the community that has embraced him and his business.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to our community here,” he said. “We sell stuff, but we have a service, so I felt I had to do something. We have to make everyone feel OK.”
When Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer — a Bridgeport resident — was killed in the line of duty in February, Soliman offered half-off dry cleaning for officers and went to the nearby Deering (9th) District headquarters to offer his condolences. He also offers the coffee available to his paying customers to the homeless who walk by his shop.
“He’s a good guy,” said a homeless man who is a mainstay of the strip mall. “I’ll come here for coffee in the morning.”
Soliman smiled at the man and said he is thankful to be in a position to help.
“I like to serve the people I live with,” he said. “I believe we have to help each other.”