Skin Too Deep?

Posted February 25, 2010 in News

To ink or not to be ink? That is the question the Menifee City Council is trying to answer on behalf of its constituents. Earlier this month, the city extended a temporary—possibly permanent—ban on tattoo shops in order to review the potential impacts of this type of business.


According to the council, there are potentially dangerous issues associated with tattooing. “Health” and “crime” concerns are issues that need more attention, City Attorney Betsy Martyn has said in published reports.


Yet, does this postulation carry any weight? According to tattoo artist Jessica Rincon of Proactive Tattoo in neighboring San Jacinto, “I understand their concerns but as long as the [county] health department is doing their job then there is no reason to ban [tattoo shops] for health reasons. Crime-wise, I know tattoo shops have a bad rap, but it’s more about art and less about crime. At [Proactive Tattoo] most of [the tattoo artists] don’t drink except for one and none of us do drugs. Our boss is even a former sheriff[’s deputy].”


In addition, “Soda” of The Velvet Vault Tattoo in Lake Elsinore adds his thoughts to how the crime-and-health scare is more imagined than real: “There are laws in place that tattoo artists have to follow. We have to have health certificates, blood-borne pathogens certifications. Artist should have to go through actual health training and I am all for that. When [tattoo shop prospects] present their arguments, they need to come to the [Menifee] council in an educated manner and show that they are compliant with all of the state health codes.”


Chris Wayne, an independent Inland Empire tattoo artist, says “I’d worry less about what tattooing implies and more about what banning tattoo shops could mean for the city. I see more people running illegal and unsanitary tattoo shops from their garages. People want to get tattooed and they’ll find a way.”


Menifee’s mulling comes at a time when other IE governments have come up with measures that limit the skin arts industry. Calimesa last year also enacted a temporary ban on tattoo shops, saying they might be “inappropriate” businesses for the downtown area. 


Instead of an all-out ban, Corona has fashioned a “compromise” of sorts. The city recently passed an ordinance allowing tattoo shops—but only if owners ensure that the storefront is upscale and that only 25 percent of the business is dedicated to tattooing, with the other 75 percent aimed toward another form of retail (i.e. clothing). Riverside County does not allow tattoo businesses in unincorporated areas.


Even Sacramento’s been asked to put the screws to the inking industry. Last year’s Assembly Bill 517 would have given state officials broader regulatory powers over tattoo shops—though it was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to allow individual counties to come up with their own rules and regs.


Soda agrees with Corona’s ordinance. “At [Velvet Vault], the front half is actually a vintage clothing store and the back is a tattoo studio. I agree that studios should be upscale and presented in a positive light. Tattoo parlors are not dingy, smoke-filled places. That is the old stigma of tattoo studios. That is now gone. They are actually art studios.” 


Rincon, partly agrees with Corona’s stratagem. “To an extent an upscale storefront is a really good idea because you don’t want tattoo shops to look like a bad place. Making it look like it’s part of the community is more welcoming than bad.” 


But as far as dedicating 75 percent of business to some other form of retail, Rincon adds, “I don’t really think that it is a good idea. Tattoo shops should be tattoo shops, and clothing stores should be clothing stores. It’s fine to sell stuff related to tattooing like tattoo art shirts, but a lot more percentage of retail going to something else takes away from tattooing. Doesn’t feel like its right.”


Menifee’s hard decision comes at a time when tattooing seems more ubiquitous (Thank you, LA Ink, Miami Ink, hell, all the Inks!!). Fortunately, neighboring communities are more than happy to provide insight on how best to handle their state of affairs. “If anything, tattoo shops can help boost the community by bringing in money instead of spending it in other towns,” says Soda. 


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