In March 2020, Erika Troutman bought an aging building in northwest Charlotte –1202 Beatties Ford Road – with dreams of creating generational wealth.
Nestled in the heart of Historic West End, the clapboard structure had once been owned by another wealth builder, Larry Melton, who founded L.D. Melton Financial Services. In its heyday, Melton’s company had more than $18 million in assets under management, according to a company website. Melton also was known for his prolific fundraising efforts on behalf of historically Black colleges and universities.
Now three years after Troutman bought the building from Melton’s widow and launched an extensive renovation – she gutted the structure and gave it a new exterior – 1202 Beatties Ford Road has a modern look and three new tenants – all Black, all women and all ambitious entrepreneurs.
Troutman said she wants the building to serve as an incubator for small businesses, a place where dreamers can get their entrepreneurial footing before launching out on their own to expand.
“Beatties Ford Road,” she said, “is the Black Wall Street of Charlotte.”
Here are the three businesses currently growing inside Troutman’s incubator:
Amirah Mangum, H’n’Ink: “Everything Black. That’s my whole thing.”
Amirah Mangum, a henna and tattoo artist and owner of H’n’Ink, had been praying for a workspace with a “storefront” when Troutman reached out to her – twice.
At first, Mangum said, she didn’t think taking the offer was the right move; she eventually realized it was just what she had been looking for. (N’n’Ink recently celebrated its fourth anniversary.)
A graduate of North Carolina Central University, Mangum holds a degree in child development and family relations. She started doing henna while a student on campus and “tapped into” tattoo work during her junior year. While she hasn’t lost her passion or desire to work with children, Mangum said her business has grown bigger than she imagined it would.
In a field where fewer than 10% of practitioners are Black, Mangum said many Black female tattoo artists are “pushed to the side.”
“As a woman, you have to know who you are and know what you’re capable of in this industry, and stand on it,” she said.
Mangum is still settling into her new location and said she is excited to get out into the Beatties Ford Road community. “That’s why I like this area,” she said.
Ashley Smith, Bare Esthetics: “I’m good at what I do. I love what I do.”
Beatties Ford Road newcomer and licensed esthetician Ashley Smith, owner of Bare Esthetics, said that’s what she felt when she first learned of Troutman and the history of Charlotte’s West End.
Originally from Durham, Smith had lived in Charlotte for 10 years and learned about Historic West End only after Troutman reached out to her.
“I saw the space and loved it,” Smith recalled. “She told me about Black Wall Street. That excited me, so I’m here.”
Smith said working out of a space owned by a Black woman and in a historically Black area is an excellent way to “put herself out there” as a Black female business owner. Smith tried working in other cosmetic fields – hair and lashes – before she found her niche with waxing and facials.
Smith has been on Beatties Ford Road for less than a month but says she loves the area.
“It feels like home,” she said.
Mara Gamble, Skintique: “I love it. Sign me up.”
Mara Gamble, owner of Skintique, a nail salon, is no stranger to Historic West End. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she now lives on Charlotte’s west side.
Gamble has done Troutman’s nails for years and talked with Troutman about Troutman’s desire to buy and renovate 1201 Beatties Ford Road. Once the work was completed, Gamble wasted no time leaving her previous space.
Gamble has been doing nails for 10 years and thought that building a client base in Charlotte would be difficult. She spent time trying to land a corporate job before shifting her focus.
“I think that was God telling me, like, ‘That’s not really what I have for you,’” Gamble recalled. She instead found work at different salons until she started her business in September 2017.
Gamble said 1202 Beatties Ford Road is her third and best location.
Looking forward and honoring the past
Although Larry Melton died in 2019, Troutman said she wants to keep his legacy alive at 1201 Beatties Ford Road.
Her plans for the building include adding a mezzanine and erecting a sign that honors Melton’s life and business achievements. While renovating the building, she said, she sought input from Melton’s family.
Troutman said community collaboration is vital, and she noted the work of J’Tanya Adams, the founder of Historic West End Partners, a nonprofit organization focused on economic development along Beatties Ford Road. Troutman called Adams a “godmother” of Historic West End.
Troutman said she wants to see the corridor remain Black-owned.
As for her tenants, Troutman said she wants to see them eventually leave to buy buildings of their own, opening up space at 1201 Beatties Ford Road for new startups.
“I said to everybody who came in here, ‘I’m going to help you get out of here,’” she said.
“It’s about ownership,” Troutman added. “That’s how you build generational wealth. Why not teach that?”