Longtime salon struggles to stay on 53rd Street

Sahan Kourouma plucks Janelle McGregor’s eyebrows with a thread Friday afternoon, in her salon, Sahan’s Motherland Salon & Spa, 1459 E 53rd St. Marc Monaghan
Sahan Kourouma plucks Janelle McGregor’s eyebrows with a thread Friday afternoon, in her salon, Sahan’s Motherland Salon & Spa, 1459 E 53rd St. -Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

A woman who has owned a salon on 53rd Street for 20 years is suing the a business arm of the University of Chicago, who she says is trying to illegally evict her.

Sahan Kourouma has owned Motherland, 1459 E. 53rd St., a nail salon and hair weaving business, since 1994. She insists she has paid her rent in full and on time and that her lease is signed through 2015. Lake Park Associates, the management company the university uses on 53rd Street, alleges that Kourouma is missed or was late on her $2,000-per-month rent payment in December. She insists she has always paid on time and in full and invested nearly $80,000 renovating the salon space.

Last fall, the university announced that it would open a business incubator space in that building. The incubator, the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), is a venture that helps businesses get established by providing mentoring, office space and grant money to small businesses focusing on science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

“I want to be a part of the growth of the community,” Kourouma said. “I’m also one of the reasons the community would grow. I have a lot of clients that walk in here and they very much stick with me.”

Kourouma came to Chicago in 1994 searching for a bigger space to open her business and raise her family than she could find in New York City, after she immigrated from Cote d’Ivoire in 1991.

“I fell in in love with the land – everything was so spacy and New York is more congested,” Kourouma said.

She established her business in Hyde Park because she wanted to live and work in a diverse neighborhood. She learned how to braid and style hair when she was a girl in West Africa. She said she had a gift and hair styling became her passion. She took cosmetology classes after she moved to New York when she had learned enough English.

Her Hyde Park business has expanded in the last 20 years to include skin care, nails, brow and lash care. She said she has clients who have been coming to her since she opened up shop on 53rd Street. Her clients come from all over Hyde Park, including professors, students and non-affiliated community members. In 2010 she expanded her business and renovated the corner space in the building.

“What they’re doing to me is not fair at; all for them to just break my lease,” Kourouma said.

She sees 53rd Street flourishing and believes her business has been a part of the reason it has begun to flourish. “All around me all I see is franchise businesses coming into the neighborhood and small, family businesses are being taken away,” Kourouma said. She does not want to move her business to another neighborhood and isn’t sure if she would be able to move within Hyde Park.

“It would be more expensive … it’s completely changing the whole thing. It would be like staring all over again which, to me, is something I would have to have the funds to really do,” Kourouma said. “I’ve spent so much money, and I still have the lease. I would like to stay.”