Destiny Shepherd, 21, and Greenley Norton, 15, drove 12 hours to Des Moines, Iowa, from their hometown of Union, Mississippi. Their destination? Merle Hay Mall.
Specifically, they were visiting Selfie Station, a new amusement spot in the mall that invites guests to pose and take pictures in 27 “Instagrammable” rooms, reports The Des Moines Register, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network. The do-it-yourself photo studio opened in June, but owner Ashley Wilkerson said it’s already gone viral multiple times on social media, drawing customers from across the country.
A TikTok video, which has been viewed over 1.3 million times, inspired Shepherd and Norton to visit. They decided to make the trek for their upcoming birthdays.
“So we looked it up, booked an Airbnb and bought tickets and now we’re here,” Shepherd said. “It looked really interesting, and we love taking pictures.”
“I came across one of these selfie museums and it just clicked,” she said.
At the Selfie Station, customers pay for an hour in the space. An adult ticket ranges from $18 on weekdays to $22 Friday and Saturday.
There are 27 rooms to explore, each with its own theme, color palette and set-up. Popular sets include a retro ’50s diner scene, a cheery yellow room with a bike and a sultry red room with a couch shaped like lips. Another set, sponsored by the Iowa locations of Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which Wilkerson’s parents own, has a ball pit for customers to play in.
Bringing the Selfie Station to Des Moines was a leap of faith for Wilkerson and her boyfriend and business partner, Austin Driscoll. Wilkerson’s freelance photography dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic. To raise the money needed to start Selfie Station, she sold her Ankeny home just days before Iowa imposed its COVID-19 restrictions, moving her two kids and two dogs into an apartment.
The immediate surge of popularity was a welcome surprise, Wilkerson said. Though the business is not even a month old, she and Driscoll already are thinking of ways to franchise, she said. In the meantime, she wants to reach beyond TikTok and see more Iowans come to the space.
“It almost seems as though we’ve had more people from surrounding states,” she said. “I just want Iowans to realize they have something really cool here.”
Katie Akin is a retail reporter for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or at 515-284-8041. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.
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