JOLIET – Sisters Amanda Dore, 26, and Sara Janovsky, 24, didn’t quite know what they were looking at Wednesday when they approached the Louis Joliet Mall’s center court.
Where a run-of-the-mill ficus tree once was, an interactive 25-foot-tall “DigiTree” stood in its place.
Self-portraits taken by mall-goers at a nearby photo booth – along with community news, promotional offers and mall events – popped up across 113 colorful LCD panels and LED pendants hanging from suspended spiral helixes surrounding the ficus tree.
“It’s pretty interesting. It’s so innovative. Once everyone figures out what it is, there’s going to be a long line to snap a selfie,” Amanda Dore said.
The center court’s new interactive digital tree is the first in the country for Starwood Retail Partners, which owns the Joliet mall and 27 other malls nationwide.
Rob Hense, senior vice president of development with Starwood, explained the tree’s curiosities during an unveiling event Wednesday morning.
“Candidly, this may seem like a bit of an odd concept. Exactly what is a digital tree and what does it do?” he said. “I’ve got to admit, I didn’t quite get it at first, but when you see what this ingenious bit of technological artistry can do, you’ll be amazed.”
Mallgoers could take selfies that appeared on the tree Wednesday, but the mall will soon roll out a feature allowing tweets to appear with the hashtag #LJMDigiTree.
“This will allow us to communicate with you, the community, for you to communicate with us, and for you all to interact with one another,” Hense said.
Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante took the first selfie in the photo booth, where mallgoers can pick a theme and caption and then watch as photos are sent up to rotate through the LCD panels.
“I’m going to give this a try and we’ll all witness the tree come to life with my photo. I hope I don’t break it,” Giarrante joked before snapping the selfie.
Kate Knuth, the mall’s general manager, said she hopes the tree can bring a sense of community with the new integrated technology and comfortable seating.
The mall has a nearly 100 percent occupancy rate for the holiday season, with the addition of about six name-brand stores this year. H&M, a worldwide clothing retailer with more than 3,200 stores, is scheduled to open next month.