BYRON CENTER — Among the dozens of retailers at Tanger Outlets outdoor shopping mall in Byron Center, a husband and wife duo are looking to capitalize on the growing movement of dedicated selfie destinations.
Inside Selfie WRLD, which feels like the physical representation of an influencer’s Instagram feed, photo-seekers have access to changing rooms and various props. The 25 curated backdrops include a depiction of the first-class section of a plane, a graffiti-covered wall, and two swings in front of neon paint splatters — all just a short walk from American Eagle Outfitters and H&M.
General admission to Selfie WRLD is $20, and $15 for children 12 and younger.
The Tanger Outlets location is one of 28 Selfie WRLD franchises in the U.S., and most are in larger cities.
Ryan and Kami Loucks wanted to bring the attraction to greater Grand Rapids because it has a “big city feel,” Ryan Loucks said.
“We wanted to bring an entertainment space that is something you would find in a larger city,” he said. “But we also chose Tanger because of its easy access to the lakeshore, Grand Rapids, the suburbs, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. It’s an easy drive and has free parking.”
Ryan Loucks owns a local Farm Bureau Insurance agency in Grandville, and his wife, Kami, sells makeup through LimeLife by Alcone. The couple invested about $200,000 to renovate the space and build the display designs. Opening Selfie WRLD was a way to express their own creativity and have fun, Ryan Loucks said.
“We really wanted to create something where people could mingle and meet other people,” he said. “We haven’t gotten to that part yet. We really want people mixing because Grand Rapids is very siloed to different regions and different socio-economic backgrounds. But everybody wants creativity, and everybody wants a reason to smile. Everybody wants to express themselves and this gives them that opportunity.”
Some of the Selfie WRLD displays are uniform across all franchises, but the owners and employees have some freedom to decorate several booths with their own ideas or based on customer feedback, Loucks said.
“What I like about this place is it’s all about people using their own creativity,” he said. “If you’re a creative person, you can use these booths in a lot of different ways.”
In addition to individuals, the format can be used by businesses for team-building exercises, small-businesses promoting their social media brand or photographers who may lack studio space, Loucks said.
“The challenge is that we are in more of a conservative area, and even though Grand Rapids is kind of a bigger city, it’s not as cutting edge as some larger cities,” Loucks said. “So that’s been a challenge, (as well as) getting the word out and showing people how this can be used.”
Over the past several years, the rise of Instagram and other social media platforms has given people a new reason to visit spectacle art exhibitions that offer unique photo opportunities. This was followed by museums opening with an intentional purpose for posing and posting to social media, such as the Museum of Ice Cream that opened in 2016 in New York and the Color Factory that opened in 2017 in San Francisco.
The movement to pay for a selfie experience is also gaining traction in Michigan, including in mall settings. The Pose Experience opened in Southfield in February, while the Selfie Museum of Detroit had its grand opening Oct. 23 in downtown Detroit. Love Your Selfie Factory opened at Eastwood Towne Center in Lansing Township in August, while the Detroit Selfie Museum opened in July at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi.
What at first may seem like an odd fit for a mall vacancy, Selfie WRLD comes as Tanger Outlets — and malls in general — builds more of an entertainment base.
In what may be a fortunate development for the Loucks to induce more visitors, 5 Lakes Brewing Co. closed its Dorr Township location to open a 10,000-square-foot space across from Selfie WRLD.
“Malls are wanting to have a reason for people to come, stay and play,” Ryan Loucks said. “We are going to be part of an entertainment district here that is still under construction.”