BRIDGEPORT — Opening up a hair salon was a dream come true for Brittany Matthews.
For as long as Matthews can remember, she has loved everything about the fashion and beauty industries and hoped one day she could start a business of her own. Last summer, she was able to open Haus of Melanin at the corner of 34th Place and Morgan Street in Bridgeport.
“We do nails, we do makeup, natural hair, braids, locs, everything,” said Matthews, who is trying to make her salon feel cozy and safe for everyone. “I wanted something that felt like you were at home, chilling and relaxing.”
But on the night of Feb. 12, the welcoming space Matthews and her staff had worked so hard to build was vandalized. A man threw a sledgehammer into one of the salon’s windows, completely shattering it and a window next to it. CBS Chicago first reported the vandalism.
About an hour after Matthews and her stylists closed the salon, a neighbor spotted a man in a ski mask running up to the store with a large sledgehammer, Matthews said. The neighbor yelled and called the cops. The man broke the window, ran back to his car and drove away.
No footage of the vandalism was available because Haus of Melanin’s outdoor security cameras weren’t activated that night, Matthews said.
No one has been arrested, police said.
“My heart was shattered when I saw it. I was like, ‘Why us?” Matthews said. “For something to happen like this that you work so hard for, I was just devastated.”
The shop closed the next day because shattered glass littered the floor. For almost a week, Matthews couldn’t step foot in her own salon because she was so hurt — the boarded-up windows were a painful reminder of the hateful incident, she said.
“But my family, and my girls at the shop, everybody was like, ‘You have to keep going.’ And we decided we have to do something. That’s when people started reaching out to us and showing us support,” Matthews said.
Matthews started an online fundraiser, hoping to raise $5,000 to cover the cost of repairs. So far, the fundraiser has gotten about $4,400. You can donate online.
Ambria Taylor, a ten-year resident of Bridgeport and candidate for 11th Ward alderperson, saw what happened to Haus of Melanin on Twitter a few days after the incident and was frustrated it wasn’t receiving more attention.
Taylor asked Matthews if neighbors could leave notes of encouragement on the plywood over the broken window to beautify it, and she shared Haus of Melanin’s fundraiser. That led to donations tripling, Taylor said.
“She really rallied up the neighborhood like, ‘No, we’re not going to have this in Bridgeport,’” said Matthews, who started seeing neighbors pop into the salon almost daily to affirm their support for the business and offer their help.
“You walk by the shop every day and it’s beautiful. [Taylor] got so much support for me, and we reached the goal to get everything replaced.”
But neighbors need to support Haus of Melanin beyond providing money for the repairs, Taylor said.
“They really need to feel like they have community support and that everybody isn’t silently agreeing with whoever did this, because that’s the message you send when you don’t say anything,” Taylor said.
Matthews said she’d been warned Bridgeport “probably wasn’t the best neighborhood” for her Black-owned business. A “Trump 2024” flag hangs on a house near the salon, and Matthews said she has seen anti-Black Lives Matter messages there. The neighborhood has seen many instances of anti-Black violence in its history.
But things are changing for the better in the neighborhood, Taylor said, and residents are embracing the opportunity to make Bridgeport — more racially diverse than ever — feel more welcoming.
Since opening in June, Matthews said her salon has been “booked and busy,” buzzing with customers from as far as Michigan. Despite what seems like a setback, she’s committed to the community and wants to stay in Bridgeport, or at least until she outgrows the space.
Matthews, a Roseland native, lives nearby and has called Bridgeport home for three years. She wants to inspire her 7-year-old son, Brayden, who has autism, to do anything he puts his mind to, including potentially continuing the family business, she said.
“If he wants to open up a barbershop or take over the hair salon, he can do that in the future,” Matthew said.
For now, though, Matthews is focused on growing and expanding her salon.
“I just want Haus of Melanin to be a household brand,” Matthews said.
You can follow Haus of Melanin on Instagram for updates.
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