A law in Philadelphia could have stopped Eric Perfect’s Kadillac Tattoo from opening across the street from Mount Airy Presbyterian Church. However, Perfect, with such a conglomeration of tattoos speckled across his body that it appears as only one, found support in the Church instead of opposition. Diversity is a significant feature of the community, promoting the coexistence rather than curbing it.
“[Neighborhood committees] would never allow us into Chestnut Hill, I’ll tell you that,” said Perfect, owner of Kadillac Tattoo. “But, that area, they’re not my clients anyway.”
Perfect preferred to open up shop where he felt welcomed and embraced, which was at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Mount Pleasant Avenue.
“It’s like if you go into a club somewhere and people look at you funny, then you know you don’t belong there, so you leave. You don’t go somewhere you’re not wanted,” Perfect explained.
Finding community support was essential for Perfect’s business venture because of a Pennsylvania state law that mandates a tattoo parlor cannot be within 500 feet of a religious place of worship. With the odd law, Kadillac Tattoo needed approval to set up shop.
Speaking with the West Mount Airy Neighbors was the first step in procuring residency. WMAN values promoting a “welcoming home for all people,” according to the organization’s mission statement. Still, the organization wanted to see business plans before approval.
Mount Airy and its medley is welcoming to artists and creative endeavors, but community organizations also want to know how a new business will impact the neighborhood.
Gaining support from the Mount Airy Presbyterian Church was the next step and necessary in sidestepping the outmoded law.
“We tattooed the pastor who was there when we first got here. She got a cross right on her hand,” Perfect said.
While the tatted pastor may have left Mount Airy Presbyterian Church, Perfect maintains religious clientele.
“[My husband and I] went in together and got matching tattoos. That was in July. I mean it hurts and it’s awful, but they were very nice and patient with me as I was squirming around,” Amelia Garbisch, music director for the Church, said.
“It was my second. I vowed to never get one again, but we decided to do it.”
The convenience of a tattoo parlor in Mount Airy entices community members to stop in. There is not another parlor in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Maybe you’re going into McMenamin’s [Tavern], having one too many beers, then thinking ‘Hey! Let’s go get a tattoo!’ That’s how my first one came about actually. People might think, because it’s right here, and maybe they’ve always wanted it, they will just pop in and look around and possibly pull the trigger, “ Garbisch offered for explanation of the shop’s popularity.
McMenamin’s Tavern is located a few blocks from Kadillac Tattoo.
Perfect attempted to set up shop in the Northeast, first, but ran into problems when presenting his plan to the neighborhood. “Some of the misconceptions they had about a tattoo shop, were just ridiculous. But that same day we got rejected down in zoning, I went and found another location and we got right in there,” he said.
Perfect’s upstanding business skills helped him secure his parlor’s spot on Germantown Avenue, but it is his parlor’s unique style that links him to the rest of diversified Mount Airy.
“You can come in a lot of tattoo shops and it looks cookie cutter but I try to make it that when you come into a shop that I’ve built, and put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into, that it has a mojo to it,” Perfect said.
He extends that mojo to his style of tattooing, as well, preferring to stick to traditional American style tattooing.
The style uses primary colors, almost no shading and bold outlines.
“Old guys with pinup girls and ships tattooed on them and you can still tell what they are after 50, 60, 70 years. I prefer something you can see from across the street,” Perfect said.
Seeing more tattoos in Mount Airy is a strong possibility, even if the area already embraced inked art before Kadillac.
“It’s winter so you don’t really see people’s arms and chests the way you do in the summer and spring, but definitely in this neighborhood you see a lot of artsy type people, “ Garbisch said.
“You saw people with tattoo’s even before the shop came in, but more so now and people aren’t afraid to showcase them and the art.”
With church support and a vibe complementary to the neighborhood, Kadillac plans on staying in Mount Airy.
Perfect is in the midst of training his son to carry on the family business of tattooing, which he feels passionate about.
“When you look at a tattoo you remember what was going on that day or that point in your life. They’re like little road maps of your life, at least to me they are, shows me where I’ve been,” Perfect states.
– Text and images by Logan Wilson and Sinead Cummings