South Portland studio gets in on selfie trend

Entrepreneur Beverly Weaver poses in one of the mini-studios at her new business, SoPo Selfie, opening this week. The studio is part of a nationwide trend of so-called “selfie museums,” where people can come and take photos of themselves in unusual or whimsical environments. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

Hermon-based entrepreneur Beverly Weaver has arrived in South Portland with a new photo studio for those who want a little extra in their selfies.

“I’m always trying to pay attention to trends,” said Weaver, who said she is capitalizing on a phenomenon that has already spread nationwide.

The studio, dubbed The Selfie Store, was scheduled to open Thursday at 333 Clarks Pond Parkway. It looks something like a portrait studio that one might find in the local shopping mall, with nearly a dozen thematically decorated cubbyholes just large enough for a few people, equipped with professional-looking lighting equipment mounted on stands.

Notably absent, however, is camera equipment, and Weaver said that’s the point. The idea, she said, is for people to use the mini-studio spaces to shoot selfies, either on their own or with the help of a friend holding the phone or camera, which Weaver recommends. Prices are $25 per person, per hour. The studio is geared primarily toward audiences age 12 and up, so parents are welcome to bring their kids as well, she said.

“They just need their cameras and themselves,” she said.

It took two months for Weaver to convert the 3,000-square foot storefront, which once housed a health club. On Thursday last week, Weaver was putting the finishing touches on the miniature studio spaces.

Each was decorated in bright colors, presenting a unique environment. One was painted with stripes in different shades of pink, accompanied by adult-sized plastic flamingos. Another had a beach theme, complete with real sand on its floor and a hammock hanging across it. Another was painted sky blue, with electric paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling decorated with cotton to look like one is among the clouds.

“It inspires people to have fun,” Weaver said, gesturing to a space with walls decorated with colorful paper flowers and an oversized child’s swing in the center. “Who doesn’t love a swing?”

As whimsical as the idea is, however, Weaver’s approach to business is anything but. She worked for years as a manager at Rite Aid, specializing in helping underperforming stores. Four years ago, she said, she quit that job after visiting an escape room, an entertainment complex that encourages visitors to solve puzzles.

“That’s when I realized I only want to see the happy side of people,” she said.

She went into business with several partners, opening an escape room complex in Bangor in 2017 that she said has been very successful. Now, she is focusing on her new venture in South Portland, and she has reason to think it will also be popular.

It is modeled after what are being generically referred to as “selfie museums,” and they have popped up all over the country, including in Denver, Seattle and Tampa.

It is difficult to pin down details on the trend’s origins. The Portland Museum of Art held an interactive exhibit in 2014 that seems similar to what Weaver is doing, but a 2017 article from CNN suggests that on a commercial level the trend may have begun with digital media company Refinery29’s 29 Rooms.

he studio, according to the network, started in 2015 initially as a free offering, but now charges for tickets in order to manage crowds at its location in Los Angeles. A spin-off selfie museum, dubbed the Museum of Ice Cream, has locations in New York City and Singapore, according to its website.

The social media platform Instagram cited the ice cream-themed selfie studio in 2017 as one of the top 10 locations to shoot selfies.

Last week, Chris Ford, one of Weaver’s partners from the escape room business, was helping her set things up, and was equally enthusiastic about the studio’s prospects. He particularly liked a space that featured neon-colored angel wings on the walls, positioned just right for a person to stand between.

“That just jumps off the wall,” he said. “I love it.”

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