Selfie Station, with 27 Instagrammable backdrops, opened last month in a Des Moines mall—and is already so popular that some fans are driving hours to visit.

By Ginger Crichton
July 17, 2020
Advertisement

On the purple wall, four purple vintage pay phones hang below a neon sign that says “Call Me.” It’s the perfect place for selfies. So, in fact, are 26 other backdrops at Selfie Station, all designed to help create an Instagrammable fun, serious or thoughtful moment.

The installations are the creation of Ashley Wilkerson and Austin Driscoll, Wilkerson's boyfriend and business partner. Wilkerson, a photographer for 11 years, had been considering ways to expand her business model. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, her clients began cancelling, and it was time to act.

She had read about other selfie exhibits but knew there were none in Des Moines and few in the Midwest. “I thought that would be awesome to bring Des Moines into the group. I sold my house and used the money from that to start buying props and everything.” She rented a space inside Merle Hay Mall, spent three months decorating and opened in mid-June.

Since then—thanks partly to “a few Tik-Toks that have gone viral”— “it’s been crazy,” Wilkerson said. She’s had visitors from Chicago, Omaha, Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi and more. “We had a mom and her daughter doing a road trip across the country from Santa Monica, California. They weren’t even planning to go to Iowa, but they heard about Selfie Station and came just for this.”

Wilkerson said the most popular backdrop, based on photos that visitors have shared with her, is Feelings, which has red walls, red floor and a curved red couch under a neon sign.

The second most popular space is decorated diner-style, with a jukebox and a wall of records.

A trampoline helps visitors jump into the shot at the Love Your Selfie area.

Look for other optical illusions, too.

And dive into a virtual pool.

Wilkerson says she plans to change out the backdrops periodically. “Halloween’s my favorite holiday, so I’m planning on going big for that,” she said. Christmas will bring new themes as well.

Tickets cost $18 to $22 for adults, depending on time of visit, and $15 for kids aged 3 to 12. That buys you one hour to take all the selfies you want. (Stands are provided so you can set your phone to just the right angle.)

Wilkerson has adapted to the pandemic by limiting admission to 30 people an hour. The Selfie Station also wipes down areas between use and keeps lots of hand sanitizer available. The spaces are 8 feet by 8 feet so groups can remain socially distanced.

“We’ve been at our max a lot,” Wilkerson said. “Business has been better than I expected.”

Selfie Station joins the trend of interactive photo backdrops that have been popular in other parts of the country, including the Museum of Ice Cream (current locations in New York and San Francisco) and Color Factory (in New York and Houston).

Chicago last year hosted similar installations at the wndr museum, 29Rooms and Bixbee Imagination Station, but none is open at the moment.

Wilkerson hopes to fill that Midwest gap.

“Here you can immerse yourself into our fun, eye-catching, interactive art installations. Experience many unique themes knowing we had your best selfie in mind,” Selfie Station advises. “Bring your friends, family, a date, or just yourself and your phone, and unleash your inner child!”