Megan Lathan considers herself — and her morning beauty regimen — low maintenance. She washes her face and then moisturizes it with rose water. Then she applies mascara, Worth The Wait by NYX, on her eyelashes and lip oil on her lips. She will doll up a bit more on special occasions, adding some eyeshadow in nude tones. But most days, a simple look is enough for her, she says.

She recently pauses to fix up products on the top shelf at her company, where beauty products are the business. She can’t help but work, she says with a laugh. She and her husband Quintin Lathan recently opened the beauty supply store — Beauty Plus — in Hillen, where they also live, right near the community where she grew up.

The location choice wasn’t serendipity by any means. They were intentional about the neighborhood they chose — but she calls it a wonderful blessing.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to open a second store anywhere else,” she said.

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The couple opened the store in the Northwood Commons shopping center in February, with a huge pink poster that reads “Morgan State University Alumni Owned” covering the glass door. Their other location is in the Charles North area.

She and her husband will tell you they want their store to be a one-stop-shop for people’s daily beauty needs. But it’s also about more. If a morning routine — be it a simple two-step ritual or elaborate makeup — is about self-expression, self-care and feeling comfortable in your own skin, that feeling is embraced by the store.

Beauty Plus, in Baltimore, Friday, February 24, 2023.
Beauty Plus, in Baltimore, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Growing up in neighboring Ednor Gardens, Megan Lathan tagged along with her mother and other women in her family to the mall, stopping at the beauty supply shop. The store, she remembers, had photos of Black models and products marketed to Black customers. But like many beauty supply stores that she encountered for most of her childhood years, it was not Black-owned.

What a difference it would have made, she thinks now, to see a Black woman running that store.

“What you can see, you can dream of,” she said. “And what you can dream of, you can achieve.”

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Black beauty brands and vendors face barriers in entrepreneurship, with Black-owned brands making up less than 7% of what’s sold in stores, according to a report by McKinsey & Company, while Black people make up 11.1% of “total beauty spending.” Black beauty brands still don’t take up much shelf space in many drugstores, department and grocery stores, usually because these companies are new, face more barriers than white-owned businesses and lack investment.

An overwhelming majority of beauty supply stores and distributors nationwide are Asian-owned, according to a report in the Indiana Law Journal, with many Black business owners saying they struggle to access distributors. In Baltimore, Beauty Plus is one of the few Black-owned supply stores. Ericka Cherrie, a licensed cosmetologist and hairstylist, said most of the beauty supply stores she knows are Asian-owned, and Black-owned stores don’t tend to last.

“There’s definitely a need in the community for more of them,” said Cherrie, who was born and raised in Baltimore and owns a hair salon. “More ownership, more ability to see our stores thriving and lasting and not just popping up.”

Megan and Quintin Lathan came across some difficulties when looking for distributors in the beginning, as they wanted those who had the best inventory and the prices that worked with their budget. The couple had to go through “an extensive process with paperwork” to secure certain vendors, she said. But the challenges weren’t anything they couldn’t handle, Megan Lathan said.

There are certain staples that they make sure are always available, like bobby pins, hair beads and rubber bands. Others are restocked based on customer sales data.

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Beauty Plus in Baltimore, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Packs of hair used for braid extensions cover the walls of the couple’s new store, as do twist and box braids and extra long locs with wavy tips. Wigs in different curl textures and colors sit on the top shelves, over aisles with hair care products, dye that ranges from sunrise orange to indigo blue and pressed powder in colors like “honey brown” and “ebony.” Bubblegum-pink and see-through beads are displayed in the front of the store next to gold hoops, crystal studs and pearl earrings.

Megan and Quintin Lathan had a soft opening of the Northwood location in December to ease the transition from owning and managing one store to two. The couple opened their first store on Charles Street in 2016, the same year they got married. The past six years have been a whirlwind, Quintin Lathan said, as they raised two daughters, the oldest 3 years old and the youngest 18 months.

Their baby photos grace the store on Northwood. The two daughters visit the store every now and then, beaming as they play and take products off the shelves. Megan Lathan says the girls already seem to understand that their parents run their own stores, and Quintin hopes to pass the business to them one day.

“We want to be around and be a part of the community for at least three generations,” Quintin said, adding that only then “I’ll be rolling over in my grave happy.”

The Lathans said they also use their businesses to watch out for the community. They bring students from nearby Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School — the public high school Megan attended — and Morgan State University, Quintin’s alma mater, to work and learn about beauty retail. It’s about investing and being ingrained in the community, Quintin said.

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On a Friday afternoon, two of their staff hung out behind the counter, chatting as “Everything is Everything” by Lauryn Hill played in the background. One of employees recently changed their major.

What are they studying now? Fashion merchandising.