Up your Instagram game and get ready for your close-up at one of these fun Metro Detroit Selfie shops
BY LEENA RAO
Like many event planners, Mika and Steve Vanderheyden saw their business all but diminish during the pandemic. But the husband-and-wife team, who live in Lake Orion and own Band-Ayd Events Group in Madison Heights, still had to pay rent on the 16,000 square foot warehouse where they store furniture, props, and lighting. “Nothing was coming in money-wise, and I thought, how do I use all this stuff and space, and be Covid-safe?” Mika says. The answer was simple: provide a space for people to take selfies. In January, the Vanderheydens opened the Band-Ayd Selfie Shop, one of the first of its kind in Metro Detroit.
Selfie stores (aka “selfie museums”), which have been popping up across the country over the past few years, typically offer immersive, colorful, well-lit, themed rooms where customers can snap photo after Instagram-worthy photo. (Early selfie shops include the candy-themed Museum of Ice Cream, which debuted in New York in 2016, and The Color Factory in San Francisco.) At a time when people are looking to fill their social-media feeds with the most unique, attention-drawing photos — think jumping into a pile of sprinkles or posing in front of a giant rainbow wall — the trend has taken off locally, too. In 2021 alone, at least six selfie shops have opened around Metro Detroit. Most charge $20 to $30 per customer for an hour-long, selfie-packed session.
“Social media isn’t going anywhere,” says Sierra Harbin, the owner of Zany Bubbles, a Keego Harbor-based selfie store that opened in August. “People want more and more content to post on social media and they are looking for original experiences.” Selfie shops are also attractive to entrepreneurs because of their low overhead — “profitability isn’t as difficult as, say, a restaurant or a retail store might be,” Harbin says — and the much-needed dose of lightheartedness they provide during these times.
“2020 was so wild that people want to experience joy [now],” says Danielle Hughes, who opened The Pose Experience in Southfield in February. “That’s what this brings.”
It also brings money: Hughes says her business raked in $100,000 in ticket and event sales in its first three months of operation. (Events are big business at selfie shops, which are popular for everything from bachelorette parties and bridal showers to birthday celebrations.)
Harbin, who operates Zany Bubbles in addition to a full-time role in digital marketing, was inspired to open her own selfie museum after visiting New York’s Museum of Ice Cream. “I loved the idea of creating a place where people can have an experience together, and have a lot of fun,” she says.
She also wants to give people a space where they can tap into their self-confidence. “The idea behind a selfie can have a negative connotation,” says Harbin, who adds that she’s struggled with her own mental health. “I wanted to take the self-absorption out of it and make it positive.” To that end, one of Zany Bubbles’ rooms features a wall of flowers and a luxurious couch in front of a neon sign that says “You’re, like, really pretty.” Another is painted yellow and adorned with black honeycombs and bees, with the words “Bee You” written across the walls. Harbin’s favorite room features a wall of envelopes containing love letters that customers can write and leave in the room.
Like Harbin, Tahira Hannah started her selfie shop — the Detroit Selfie Museum in Novi’s Twelve Oaks Mall — as a side hustle. (Her other company is Snap Station, which provides photo entertainment for corporate and social events.) Hannah, who opened DSM in July, enlisted several local artists to create murals for the space’s 40-plus different backdrops.
One popular room features cotton clouds with a swing and a blue neon sign that reads “On Cloud 9.” Another includes a three-foot-tall gorilla (a fake one, of course), propped against a wall covered with bananas and an illuminated sign that says “Beast Mode.” A particular crowd favorite is a room staged to look like the inside of a Lear Jet, complete with luxurious leather seats, a bottle of Moet, and gold champagne glasses. “Each scene speaks to people’s emotions differently,” says Hannah, who’s even seen a proposal take place in her museum.
Hannah says that staging the different “scenes” was easy, since she already had much of the material and backdrops from Snap Station. The Vanderhaydens, too, decorated Band-Ayd’s selfie rooms with lighting and props from their event planning company. When it comes time to source new materials, the couple shop in unexpected places: One of the rooms includes a bunch of clocks Mika found at a garage sale and vintage suitcases discovered at Goodwill. And they’re coming up with new ideas all the time — Harbin says she’s “Pinterest’s number one fan,” as she searches for creative new backgrounds to keep up with the demand for fresh content. Hannah plans to create back-drops timed to the holidays (next up: a Christmas-themed selfie station).
With more than one billion active users of Instagram alone, selfie-shop owners believe that their businesses are likely more than just a fad. “We live in a crazy, social-media-driven world,” says Mika Vanderheyden, who thinks the demand for original content will only increase. Hannah agrees. “You know the saying, you don’t know you need something until someone gives it to you? That’s what selfie shops are.”
The Pose Experience
15618 W 10 Mile Rd, Southfield