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In the era of Instagram, businesses use street art to attract customers

Rachel Spacek and Jack Flemming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES -- Inside the shops along Melrose Avenue, there's plenty to appeal to fashionable young customers such as Melissa Wang. But it was outside the Paul Smith store where the 25-year-old found what she was looking for.

"Did you even visit LA if you didn't stop to take a photo in front of the pink wall?" said Wang as she snapped a photo of her friend.

From morning until night, a steady stream of visitors from across the city and around the world pose, pout and preen in front of the clothing store's Pepto Bismol-hued wall. The crowds are so intense that the store hired a security guard to keep things under control.

Street art is ingrained into Los Angeles' DNA -- the city's sprawling concrete backdrop has long served as a massive easel for artists, from the muralists who pioneered the vibrant Chicano art movement to the graffiti writers plying their trade along the LA River. But in the age of social media, street art is finding a new role: providing the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy shots, and the perfect lure for retailers seeking to attract a certain selfie-taking demographic.

With millennials willing to go out of their way to find a piece of Instagram gold, businesses are eyeing the artwork as a tactic to draw people outside -- and then, hopefully, inside -- their stores. No longer relegated to alleyways or roll gates, street art now coats the facades of yoga and spin studios, restaurants, bars and retail boutiques.

At the Line Hotel in LA's Koreatown area, the "Peace Tree" mural by Shepard Fairey brings passersby in from the street, said Gabriel Ratner, vice president of operations at Sydell Group, which owns the hotel.

"People stop by to grab a photo and then end up coming into the hotel lobby for a cup of coffee or cocktail," Ratner said.

The hotel commissioned Fairey, famous for designing the Barack Obama "Hope" poster, to design the massive 10-story artwork for exactly that reason.

"It's for everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy and take Instagram photos," he said.

A dazzling blend of melting rainbows by artist Jen Stark has turned the parking garage at Platform, a Los Angeles-area outdoor mall of independent artists and merchants, into an unlikely attraction.

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