Prima Lash and Beauty Supply in Bridgeport. Credit: Brittany Sowacke for South Side Weekly

In December of 2019, sisters Whitney and Diamond Cumbo opened PRIMA Lash & Beauty Bar, in south Bridgeport. At the time, they believed they were joining a vibrant community that would welcome them with open arms. But after years of targeted vandalism with no response from the police or local officials, the duo plan to join other Black business owners in the area and shutter their doors.

For Whitney Cumbo, the journey to Bridgeport started back in 2015 when she was a full-time student at Northern Illinois University. “I started in college just doing lashes. It was supposed to be a side hobby,” said Cumbo. But through word of mouth, her “side hobby” grew into something she couldn’t ignore—a real business. Deciding that a traditional 9 to 5 career wasn’t for her, Cumbo took a chance and used her rent money to become a certified lash technician. Certification in hand, she started her first business, Lash Me Whit. Back then she had to split her week in half—four days at NIU, three days at home, growing a clientele in both locations. 

After graduation, she partnered with her sister to open her first brick-and-mortar store at 754 W. 35th Street. PRIMA Lash & Beauty Bar was a full-service salon, an open space for other Black beauty entrepreneurs—from lash and nail techs to hair stylists to makeup artists—who couldn’t yet afford or didn’t want their own standalone shops.

Though clients poured in from all over the city, Whitney and the other technicians working out of the Beauty Bar faced one early complication: Bridgeport wasn’t set up to support Black businesses like theirs. “[Technicians] kept on running, like, miles away to go to the beauty supply because it wasn’t no beauty supplies in Bridgeport,” said Whitney. “So that is what prompted me to open my second location.”

Two years after the Beauty Bar opened, the Cumbo sisters opened a beauty supply directly across the street from the Beauty Bar. Though it shares its sister location’s sleek, high-end aesthetic, with a flower wall almost certainly installed for photo ops, PRIMA Lash & Beauty Supply is smaller. It’s a single room with a few tables and shelves displaying various Black-owned beauty products.

Whitney Cumbo, 28, at Prima Lash and Beauty Supply, located at 755 W. 35th St in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. Credit: Brittany Sowacke for South Side Weekly

Unlike the Beauty Bar, the Beauty Supply faced some early resistance. In the middle of the night in March of 2021, before renovations on the Beauty Supply were finished, a passing white man threw a large stone into the window. The cameras at the Beauty Bar across the street caught the entire incident. Shortly after the Beauty Supply’s windows were broken, Whitney showed the video to her landlord. “He said that he recognized the guy off the video,” she said. “He actually knew [him] but the police still never did anything about it.” Whitney’s landlord told the police that he knew the man but nothing came of it. He ended up fixing Whitney’s window, but, to date, neither she nor the landlord have ever been formally interviewed about the incident by the police or asked to provide the video.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) was contacted for comment but did not provide one.

“I moved to Bridgeport because I thought it was safe, it was upscale. [But] I just feel like they’re trying to run us out,” Whitney said. Disturbed but not deterred, Whitney and Diamond opened a third location on the same block. Whitney describes that one as an upgrade on the initial location. “The first location was just like an open space beauty salon. The third location is ‘Beauty Suites,’ a more private setting for entrepreneurs and independent contractors.”

To date, all three PRIMA locations have either been vandalized or attacked. In July of 2022, someone threw a brick at the Beauty Bar’s window. Then in June of this year, one of Whitney’s stylists was entering Beauty Suites when a group of white youths began firing at her with what turned out to be BB guns. “I always contact the police when it happens but I never really get any follow-up,” said Whitney.

The Cumbo sisters aren’t the only Black business owners who’ve been targeted in Bridgeport. Cumbo said two of her close friends also opened businesses in Bridgeport, and that both of them have been vandalized as well. One of them, FAME, a Black-owned clothing boutique on Halsted, was forced to close. “He completely left Bridgeport just because of the vandalism,” Whitney said, of the owner.  Neither business owner could be reached for comment.

In February of 2022, a man in a ski mask threw a sledgehammer into the window of Haus of Melanin, another Black-owned hair salon on Morgan Street. In August of that year, someone broke into the shop and stole a number of items, including backpacks and supplies gathered for a back-to-school supply drive. At the time, the owner, Brittany Matthews, noted that various backpacks were taken but the one depicting African Marvel superhero Black Panther was left behind. Both Block Club Chicago and NBC Chicago reported on those attacks.

Between January 2019 and November 2023, Bridgeport saw an average of about a dozen police reports of vandalism to small businesses each year, according to data on the Chicago Data Portal. Citywide, there were about 2,000 reports each year during that same period.

“I just think the problems need to be handled and they have not,” Whitney said. “Seem like nobody really cares, they’re kinda sweeping it under the rug.” For her, it’s a question of what value the authorities and officials in Bridgeport place on Black business owners. The police are quick to contact her, she said, when they think the cameras on her property might aid them in other investigations, like when someone was breaking into cars on the block.

“My camera caught the entire incident, and the police were in my face getting my camera footage,” she said. “So I just think, for them to think I can be an asset when things like that happen . . . they’re quick to show up. But when I voice my opinion as a young, Black female and entrepreneur, it feels like it’s not heard and it’s not fair.”

Alderperson Nicole Lee’s office was contacted for comment, but despite an initial promise to follow up, no one from the Alderperson’s office has provided a comment.

Just across Halsted from PRIMA Lash & Beauty Bar stands Sage and Shea, an African apparel and goods store owned by Dominic Moab. The store is essentially a long hallway whose very walls seem swaddled in colorful fabrics. The smell of incense hangs heavy in the air over proud Black mannequins, handmade jewelry hanging from hooks on the walls, shelves of scented body butter, and rack after rack of intricately patterned clothes.

Like the Cumbo sisters, Moab’s initial positive reception in Bridgeport quickly soured. “When I moved in, the first week, I got a lot of people from the neighborhood who came to support me,” he said. “But a few weeks later, I started seeing eggs and paint on the windows.” Initially, Moab dismissed the vandalism as a simple prank, assuming the culprits would eventually grow bored and move on. But they didn’t. “Like every other week, I would see paint or eggs.”

Moab’s store was hit multiple times a month from February 2021 until December 2022, when he was finally able to install cameras by the front door. He never caught the culprits on tape and assumes that the visible cameras scared them off. He considers himself lucky that no one broke his windows, unlike other shop owners he heard stories about, including Whitney.         

It has been nearly a year since the last act of vandalism at Sage & Shea, but the scars remain. Moab’s customers can still see the blue paint staining the wall just to the right of the doorframe on their way in. For now, Moab plans to stay in Bridgeport, content that, for his shop at least, the problem seems to have ended.

Whitney Cumbo is of a different mind. “[It’s] definitely made me feel that, when I’m ready to expand, I don’t want to expand in Bridgeport anymore.” Though she believes that Bridgeport doesn’t have a lot of crime, she feels what crime there is seems targeted at Black residents and business owners. “I just don’t really want to be targeted like that. I would rather go somewhere that appreciates me, my business.” 

Once the terms of the leases of her existing three properties expire, she plans to relocate them. As of yet, she hasn’t settled on a neighborhood. But she’s hopeful that, wherever she lands, she’ll be valued as an asset to the community, not an intruder.

“Just because I’m young and Black don’t mean I’m not worthy, don’t mean I don’t belong here,” she said,  “I just want to be treated with respect because that’s the only thing I’ve ever shown Bridgeport.”

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Miles Parker is a Black writer and filmmaker based out of Hyde Park.

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17 Comments

  1. Of all the talk about “disinvestment in black and brown neighborhoods ” why the hell would these black businesses locate in a non-black neighborhood rather than invest/support their target neighborhoods? Smh

    1. “a non-black neighborhood” lol yes i guess you’re pleased the locals are trying to keep it that way

    2. Because a rational businessperson does not choose their location to “support their neighborhood” but based on which address draws more paying customers and has minimal chance of vandalism/robbery.

  2. If you believe the source if this is racism in and of itself then there’s not much I can say to convince you otherwise. The Black Panther backpack was likely ignored because it sticks out, it’s a unique identifier. Unless you can point to another backpack which was just as loud, though not afrocentric, which also wasn’t taken? I’m just urging you to be objective. 2,000 vandalism incidents a year? I actually thought that was an incredibly small number. And then I realized I thought that because most people simply don’t report it. Because they know nothing will be done about it, whether black, white purple green or orange. The alder person you mentioned btw is Chinese. So Asians also are down with white supremacy? Look, the murder clearance in Chicago is 30 percent, the real numbers when accounting actual convictions and misappropriated suicides and accidental rulings. You think they have time to go out on the hunt for acts of vandalism when they can’t even catch killers??? I’m just urging you to be objective. Don’t leave if Bridgeport is where you want to be. You definitely will thrive more there. More money. The one caveat in all of this is the fact that the landlord was willing to help and knew the identity of the man. Do you still have the photo. Is it good quality? How does the landlord know him? Know where to find him, know associates? You really should not let that incident go. You call the boss of the police, the s.a.; and if that doesn’t work, you file a complaint with their boss, the a.g. Cuz unlike you as en entrepreneur, everybody has a boss. If you have a lead, escalate it and seek answers. This isn’t about racism as much as it is incompetence, lack of resources and an overburdened police force. All of which kills motivation, which kills investigations. You just need to push harder on it, then write a new article when you get a conviction. That will serve as a deterrent. Don’t give up. The world is definitely ugly, won’t lie to you there. But racism is such a simpleton ugly explanation. It’s much more complex and insidious than all that. So be more cunning and seek retribution. You’re welcome.

  3. Black businesses are not being “targeted” in Pilsen of all places. The problem is the police has an ethic of not punishing crime all around the country. It affects everyone and helps no black people.

  4. So what about the white owned stores and restaurants that have been vandalized and broken into ? Please dont make this a racial thing , because the owners of an Italian restaurant are white and the break ins were conducted by non Italians , so what is your twist on those events ?

  5. It’s always about race with you people . How do you know all the vandalism was caused by white folk. Did you ever think an afro American competitor did it ??

    1. Correlation is not causation. Just because a white person commits an act of vandalism against a black business, it does not automatically make it racially motivated and needs more facts before such a determination can be made.

  6. It surprises me that young Black adults today, do not know the history of Bridgeport: Off limits to Blacks due to racism;Irish Catholic and Mayor Daley’s territory.

  7. There is a nice store front In a small Mall next too a Beauty shop. Add a hundred and fifteenth and racine. I stay on a hundred and fourteenth and racing it is very nice and quiet.

  8. This is really sad, that a Black owned respected business can’t be welcome in Bridgeport. My heart go out to this woman, I pray for your safety, can you go to channel 2 new, this story need to be told on a larger Scale.

    1. That is not the issue. There is insufficient evidence that this is a racial issue. Meanwhile, there are plenty of white-owned businesses throughout Chicago who have to deal with vandalisms and burglaries. It is a crime issue.

  9. As sad as it is, some neighborhoods are not meant for us and we just have to accept that. I hope that all of these proud and bold business owners continue to strive, stay encouraged and stay safe.

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