Since the coronavirus outbreak began, chances are your favorite tattoo shop has been through hell. Lumped in with other personal services such as hair and nail salons, tattooing was completely shut down until mid-June. The pandemic sent a potent shockwave through the tattoo industry and local shops had to get creative to survive.
Sean Peters, owner of Eclectic Art Tattoo Gallery, said many challenges arose due to the unique business practices that can come with running a tattoo shop. For example, the artists at Eclectic are are independent contractors, which made it impossible for Peters to get loans based on the number of employees.
“There weren’t any layoffs, which kind of screwed us when we tried to get any small business loans,” Peters explained. “The first question they ask is, ‘Are there 500 people or less at your business?’ All of that money went to bigger businesses.”
Unable to rely on emergency loans, Eclectic kept its lights on by reaching out to the community with giveaways such as tattoo raffles. Customers paid $25 for a chance to win a four-hour tattoo session, which normally costs $500. Eclectic received many tickets, and announced the six winners on Facebook.
In an email to City Pulse, Kris Lachance, owner of Splash of Color Tattoo and Piercing Studio, and communication director Anne Lux said the shop’s employees are not classified as independent contractors and were thus able to avoid many of the complications faced by shops like Eclectic. Splash of Color was able to furlough its 15 employees without any permanent layoffs. However, the shop still faces lingering financial problems with rent and other expenses.
“This meant they were able to receive unemployment without many of the delays, hiccups and headaches some of our other industry friends experienced,” Lachance and Lux said. “It wasn’t a totally smooth process, but it could have been worse. Everyone was brought back once we were given the green light to reopen.”
Peters said the tattoo industry is very protective of its own in braving the coronavirus, citing a website and Facebook group named “Tattooing Beyond COVID-19” that was formed by fellow tattoo artists and shop owner Geary Morrill, along with Lachance and Johnny Andres. The group is a helpful resource for tattoo artists to find personal protective equipment and share solutions with one another. Lachance and Lux said Splash of Color used the platform to share its own preparedness plan and to help other shops get through the pandemic.
“It’s a shared space for artists to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on with us; this where you can find masks,’” Peters added. “There’s a communal effort to help each other reopen. We were one of the last to close, and one of the last to open. Having people in your corner sharing information is priceless.”
Tattoo shops are legally open again, only with rigorous new safeguards. Eclectic now requires clients to provide their own masks and wear them all times while in the shop. Clients must also take a temperature test, provide their own hand sanitizer and sanitize their hands upon entry. Eclectic’s full list of requirements is available on its Facebook page. Splash of Color’s requirements are also online.
“We all follow guidelines, pay licensing and care about the safety of our clients. That’s one of the scary things about reopening during COVID-19,” Peters said.
Even with shops open, Lachance and Lux said it is by no means an indicator that the pandemic has gone away. Splash of Color is still staring down a score of financial difficulties.
“There will be financial ramifications and we won’t be making money like we’re used to, but we want to ensure we aren’t faced with illness or additional closures,” Lachance and Lux said. “In the long term, we’ll have to contend with things like more employee absenteeism, changes in consumer spending, what campus will look like in the fall, possible supply chain disruption, and maybe even another state mandated shut down if we see a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.”
While the shops were shut down, some people resorted to homemade self-tattoo techniques, the most common of those being the stick and poke. A stick-and-poke tattoo is typically done with a sewing needle and vial of India ink, which can be purchased at hobby shops. City Pulse reported on the local culture of stick and poke tattoos, perhaps without enough emphasis on the legality and health risks, much to the chagrin of shops like Eclectic Art Tattoo Gallery and Splash of Color — both of which made widely shared posts to their Facebook pages decrying the unsanitary practice.
“As soon as you start doing that on other people, you’re dealing with cross-contamination. There’s hepatitis, HIV — it’s just gross. In this industry, we pride ourselves on doing what we need to be considered legal,” Peters said.
“They are always unsafe,” Lachance and Lux added. “I know that there will always be someone who says they got one and it turned out fine, but they are the exception, not the rule. The risk of disease and infection is too great with homemade tattoos.”
Homemade tattooing is addressed by Michigan’s Public Act 375, which was enacted in December of 2010. It states: “Individuals shall not tattoo, brand, microblade, or perform body piercing on another individual unless that tattooing, branding, microblading, or body piercing occurs at a body art facility licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.”
Amanda Darche, communication specialist at the Ingham County Health Department, said local residents are encouraged to only use a licensed body art facility for tattoos.
Visit Tattooing Beyond COVID-19 at tattooingbeyond.org.