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Drawn By BTS, 'ARMY' of Fans Inject Millions of Dollars Into LA Economy 

Three young women in their 20s laugh as they dine at a crowded restaurant with a Korean BBQ grill at their table, surrounded by plates of food.
Friends Daniela Bohorquez, Hilal Mohamed and Tiffany Blackkettle (l. to r.) dine at Ahgassi Gopchang in Koreatown.
(Josie Huang
LAist )
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Ever since Korean supergroup BTS debuted its mini-residency at SoFi Stadium last week, the wait to get into Korean BBQ restaurant Ahgassi Gopchang has been up to five hours long.

Listen: At the center of the BTS economic windfall

The two things are not unrelated. In an interview, members of the world’s best-selling music act once name-checked the Koreatown spot famed for its roasted beef intestines — repeatedly, in fact.

For fans who traveled to Los Angeles — many across oceans — to see BTS perform sold-out concerts in Inglewood, the wait to get into Ahgassi Gopchang is but a small test in endurance, with restaurant servers helping them power through with a welcome sign and cups of water and orange slices as BTS hits such as “Run” and “Mic Drop” blast from speakers.

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To keep up with a near-doubling of nightly business from BTS fans, restaurant owner Michael Chon has had to order much more beef, pork, noodles and soju. While food prices have surged because of supply chain disruptions and inflation, the boost in revenue has vastly improved his margins.

Dozens of people are visible in a photo, waiting in line in a parking lot to get into a restaurant.
A long line of BTS fans line up to eat Korean bbq at BTS fave Ahgassi Gopchang.
(Photo courtesy of Ahgassi Gopchang)

‘It’s just truly an eye-opening experience for us,” said Chon during a mid-afternoon lull at the restaurant before the dinner rush. “It brings tears to our eyes every night because everyone's having a really, really great time. They're just enjoying the food, they’re dancing, they're singing, they're cheering — it's insane.”

It brings tears to our eyes every night because everyone's having a really, really great time. They're just enjoying the food, they’re dancing, they're singing, they're cheering — it's insane.
— Michael Chon

BTS concertgoers, who venue representatives say hail from 78 countries, are exercising their spending power throughout Southern California.

As she shared the beef combo with friends at Ahgassi Gopchang, Daniela Bohorquez recounted a whirlwind of activity since she flew in Monday from Edmonton, Canada to catch two BTS concerts later in the week.

On top of budgeting for tickets, airfare and hotel nights, she’s been ordering a lot of Ubers to go sight-seeing.

“We went to Disneyland and Universal, and everywhere we turn there was ARMY there,” Bohorquez said.

ARMY is the name of BTS’ loyal fan base — and they have discretionary money to drop. Bohorquez’s fellow Canadian ARMY member, Tiffany Blackkettle, works at a foster care agency, but to afford trips to see BTS she holds down a second job — the overnight at Walmart.

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“So that whole paycheck just goes to BTS,” Blackkettle laughed. “I think this is my 23rd concert for BTS.”

At SoFi Stadium, male and female fans of the band BTS pose outside a display of their tour name "Permission to Dance." The words are cut-out in orange.
At SoFi Stadium, BTS fans wait in line to pose with a display of the band's tour name "Permission to Dance."
(Josie Huang/LAist)

Both women expect to each spend around $5,000 each on this trip. A third friend, Hilal Mohamed of Minneapolis, said her outlay will be a fraction of that because she’s in nursing school.

But she has been saving money since high school, when she said BTS motivated her to get a job to afford concerts and merchandise on her own. Along with other ARMY friends, she also uses earnings to make donations, inspired by the band's own charitable largesse.

She's convinced by the time she graduates from nursing home in 18 months, she can treat her friends to a BTS extravaganza.

“I told them I will take them on tour with BTS because I will be making a lot of money,” Mohamed said. “Anywhere — anywhere in America.”  

The seven members of BTS on an awards stage wearing matching yellow suits.
BTS members Jimin, J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Suga, and V arrived in Los Angeles ahead of their concert series to perform at the 2021 American Music Awards where they were the night's big winners.
(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MRC
Getty Images North America)

Restaurants and hotels, which usually suffer from a post-Thanksgiving slump, are perhaps seeing the BTS effect at its greatest.

At the Westdrift hotel in Manhattan Beach, director of sales and marketing Larry Jones said the weekend after Thanksgiving is slow, but the property was nearly sold out because it was half-full with BTS fans.

Retailers, on the other hand, can usually count on a holiday shopping bump. But over at K-Pop Music Town, the long line of BTS fans waiting to browse boxed albums, posters and figurines was still unlike anything the staff had seen before.

Manager Andy Lim said that business at the Koreatown shop has been up more than 200% since BTS began playing SoFi. Another employee, Grace Choi, hunched her shoulders as she tried to squeeze past customers so that she could get access to wall displays.

“Since everyone's taking the albums, we have to restock constantly,” Choi said. ‘It's like walking back-and-forth a lot.”

A man and several women stand in line waiting to get inside KPop Music Town.
A manager at K-Pop Music Town said business gone up by more than 200% since BTS showed up in town.
(Josie Huang

With a BTS ticket selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars — and SoFi able to accommodate about 50,000 people per night with the type of stage configuration BTS is using — that’s a lot of revenue going to the band, venue and promoters.

But airlines are also benefitting. Lauren Salisbury, director of global communications for the L.A. Tourism and Convention Board, traveled Tuesday from Baltimore on a United Airlines flight where a third of the passengers were BTS fans headed to the shows at SoFi Stadium.

The flight attendant welcomed the contingent over the intercom and promised to get them to L.A. quickly so they could start enjoying their experience.

A ferris wheel is lit up in purple on the Santa Monica Pier as people mill around on the boardwark.
L.A.'s tourism office paid to light up the Pacific Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier in honor of BTS one evening in late November.
(Screenshot from Discover Los Angeles video)

“I mean, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan, but I've never seen any other entertainment act that is bringing throngs of fans to one location the way BTS has,” Salisbury said.

Gene Del Vecchio, who teaches entertainment marketing at the University of Southern California, said the closest analogy goes back decades — to the Beatles.

Like BTS, the Fab Four in their day “crossed borders.”

“When they came to the United States, they not only drew people from the U.S., but also people from around the world,” Del Vecchio said.

He added that the economic impact of the BTS concerts could easily exceed $100 million because many of the fans are coming from afar and will stay longer to maximize their time in L.A.

The concerts are the first in-person performances BTS has given since the start of the pandemic. The significance was not lost on fans, many of whom paid to see multiple shows.

A smiling woman with long strawberry blonde hair poses next to her car which is covered with BTS-themed stickers.
Fayeleen Golden of Stockton became determined to attend a BTS concert after she discovered the band earlier this year.
(Josie Huang

Fayeleen Golden drove seven hours from Stockton to see BTS so she could attend a show at SoFi and, on another night, a concert simulcast on a giant screen at the YouTube Theater, next to the stadium.

Golden began preparing to save thousands of dollars to see BTS in concert after the group kept showing up on her social media around the beginning of the year.

“I'm actually ‘baby’ ARMY,” said Golden, using the moniker for new fans.

Like other fans, Golden said the band lifted her spirits through the pandemic, when she was trying to balance college with raising two young sons on her own after a breakup.

“I became very overwhelmed very fast and I just kind of fell into a funk,” Golden said. “I wasn't liking who I was anymore.

She dove into the group’s upbeat music, and hours and hours of YouTube content of the seven members goofing off and enjoying each other’s company.

“I've never wanted somebody else's happiness that I didn't know personally, wasn't friends with, not family with,” Golden said. “But they make you feel like that.”

She brought along her two young sons and her mother, who would babysit as Golden attended the concerts. The boys are now fans too, hugging BTS-themed stuffed animals their mom bought them.

Six-year-old Nicholas wiggled his body as he sang the opening lyrics of the group’s hit song, “Butter.”

Smooth like butter, like a criminal undercover
Gon' pop like trouble breaking into your heart like that (ooh)

And that is truly what you call “baby” ARMY.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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