COVID-19: Tattoo Parlors Persist Because of Customers

Used to dealing with the possible spread of infection, several tattoo parlors in the region have instituted new policies and practices in order to stay open.

Sarah Miller, a client at Revelations Tattoo and Piercing in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, got her first tattoo just before pandemic-related shutdowns closed shops. It was a little painful and bled some afterward, she said, but she enjoyed the process. 

A few months later, she was already looking forward to her next appointment, scheduled on July 30, and wasn’t concerned about catching COVID-19 while getting a tattoo.

“I am not worried about getting a tattoo during the pandemic due to the need for sterile and cleanliness procedures that are a must in a tattoo shop,” she said.

With nonessential businesses reopening across Pennsylvania over the past several months, tattoo parlors are one place where employees have always had to take the risk of infection seriously.

“Revelation has always followed high standards in the process of keeping all our customers safe,” Chris Pincus, owner of Revelations Tattoo, said. “We’ve always used chemicals that always killed viruses, as in HIV, hepatitis, and coronavirus, among many others.”

The process of getting a tattoo actually breaks the skin and creates a wound. The potential for disease transmission is concerning to artists and potential clients when COVID-19 is so easily contracted and spread through human contact. Shops across the region have implemented a variety of new practices and policies to keep customers safe.

Regulations for tattoo parlors in Pennsylvania are set at the county level and reopening has meant new health and safety guidelines to abide by to limit the spread of coronavirus inside the shop. 

“There used to be more people in the building,” Michelle Kolb, the manager at Lucky Strike Tattoo in Quakertown, said. “There was a bustling and electric energy you could feel. Now it feels more clinical, more like a medical office. It feels serious.” 

At Lucky Strike, customers can expect a variety of adjustments. Staff have rearranged the layout of the shop; love seat couches in the waiting area have been split apart from each other, and artists’ equipment and cubicles are now spaced six-feet apart. Even knickknacks usually scattered throughout the space have been moved to one wall. 

Waiting area at Lucky Strike Tattoo

Masks are mandatory and customers can only enter the shop by appointment. According to Pincus, maintaining these expectations is considered a more efficient way to secure the health and safety of staff and clients.

“A lot of customers do not appreciate having to wear a mask, which I understand,” he said. “But at this current time, they are the guidelines and we are following them.”

Other shops are also limiting the amount of customers in the shop to one at one time and using telecommunication technologies for consultations.

Some hope the changes will be permanent.

“I’m not sure we want to go back,” Shannon Brown, owner of Local Color Tattoo in West Chester, said. “With mandatory $50 deposits and appointment scheduling, it has improved the percentage of those that show up on time.”

Managing the financial upheavals caused by COVID-19 continues to be a struggle for many shop owners. Employees at Revelations Tattoo were concerned whether they’d ever be able to come back to work, according to Pincus. Supply costs have gone up too.

Much of the medical-grade sanitation equipment needed by tattoo artists is limited in supply and has gone up significantly in price. According to Kolb, a case of gloves prior to the pandemic cost $75, but now prices range from $150 to $180.

Michelle Kolb organizing sanitary equipment.

The costs are all reflected in higher prices for tattoos. Kolb is concerned Lucky Strike’s clients may not be able to afford the shop’s services.

“Honestly, you worry,” Kolb said. “Are they like us, out of an income and using that spare money to pay for essentials?”

To bring in regular revenue, artists at Lucky Strike are trying to book appointments as quickly as they can.

When shops started reopening, there were at least some people ready to schedule their next tattoo appointment.

“I am very excited that Revelations has reopened,” Miller said. “I have had this tattoo idea planned for quite some time, and I do not want to push the appointment farther.”

Eager customers are a relief to artists like Kolb, Pincus, and Brown, who did not receive financial help from the government.

Brown was denied unemployment assistance when she applied and Kolb did not receive a reply from the township when she applied for business loans, according to each.

Kolb and Pincus even considered selling gift cards, promising customers they’d still be able to open in the future.

With the chance of a second wave of COVID-19 coming in the fall, there are few precautions these small businesses can do financially to prepare for another shutdown.

“The fear of a second shutdown is real,” Kolb said. “We don’t have the ability to go through another several months without income and the actual support of the government.”

Fortunately, these three tattoo parlors have seen an influx of new customers. Many appointments had to be scheduled months in advance. While people may be waiting longer than expected for their tattoo, the artists intend to fill their schedules.

“Please be patient,” Brown tells her clients. “We are a tight knit group. We will make it through anything.”

Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.

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