Selfie museum offers influencer haven, opens 2nd location in Columbia

The storefront of The Spotlight's new location in Columbia, which opened Friday evening. (Submitted photo)

The storefront of The Spotlight’s new location in Columbia, which opened Friday evening. (Submitted photo)

Have you ever wondered where influencers go to get their Instagram photos taken — at least, when they’re not partying at Coachella or lounging on the beach? 

These days, the answer is what is sometimes referred to as a “selfie museum,” a relatively new type of business that provides influencers, as well as regular consumers, access to dozens of backdrops for a fee.

The Spotlight, located in Towson, is one such facility. With the opening of a second location at the Mall in Columbia on Friday, it will be the first chain of selfie museums in Maryland, according to its owners.

Katoriae “Tori” Brown-Harding, a Baltimore native currently living in Pennsylvania, started the shop in the midst of the pandemic after quitting a high-pressure job in hopes of pursuing something more creative. (Both she and her husband, photographer Brian, are longtime fashion and music industry professionals.) She came up with the idea for The Spotlight after remembering that she and her children had visited a selfie museum on a trip to Miami, and only about a month later, she opened the content creation studio in Towson.

“I have three teenaged girls, and they do things like put their cellphones up (on the shelf) in the meat section of Walmart” to take pictures and videos, Brown-Harding said with a laugh. “It hit me: You guys need a place to go to create TikToks that has a cool background.” 

Katoriae “Tori” Brown-Harding poses with one of the backdrops at The Spotlight's Towson location. (Submitted photo)

Katoriae “Tori” Brown-Harding poses with one of the backdrops at The Spotlight’s Towson location. (Submitted photo)

In addition to providing backdrops, The Spotlight also offers in-house professional photography for an upcharge; coming in to use the backgrounds costs $25 per person for 30 minutes or $45 for an hour, while a professional photo session starts at $100. There are also props available for customers to use throughout the museum, from a makeup vanity to a functioning Pac-Man arcade machine. 

If you’re wondering, ‘just how big could the influencer market in Maryland possibly be?’, you’re not alone. Brown-Harding said it’s rare that The Spotlight gets any major TikTok or Instagram influencers visiting the studio. But the state is rife with so-called “micro-influencers” — those with 10,000 followers or so, who may have a dedicated local audience throughout the Maryland-Washington, D.C.-Virginia region.

Brown-Harding lauded the selfie museum concept as a way for influencers to make their content creation more efficient; rather than having to scope out dozens of individual locations for photoshoots, curate a wardrobe for each of them and travel miles to reach them, influencers can now compile months of content in one location. 

“It saves them countless hours of having to travel places to find the look,” she said. “It’s a one-stop shop.” 

But providing an efficient and fashionable photoshoot spot for influencers isn’t the only thing The Spotlight does. Brown-Harding said that, in the year since it opened, the selfie museum has also been the set for multiple larger-scale productions, including movies, YouTube videos and commercials for local brands. They also host birthday parties and other events such as karaoke nights and even a speed dating event. 

The new location in Columbia is much like its predecessor, with some additions based on customer feedback. Brown-Harding heard criticism that there were no rooms featuring stereotypically masculine aesthetics, so the Columbia studio features one dedicated to gaming and another focused on motorcycles and cars. 

This is just the beginning of The Spotlight’s growth, Brown-Harding said. She hopes to open new locations in other states and even begin franchising the studio’s model, helping franchisees design their own selfie museums and connecting them with the vendors she used to deck out the Towson and Columbia locations.

“As long as the funds keep rolling in as they are,” she said, “we will continue to open up new stores.” 

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