Northeast Wisconsin tattoo shops prepare for business after COVID-19 shutdown


AFP PHOTO/Alejandro PAGNI via Getty Images

(WFRV) – Many Wisconsin businesses have had to alter operations due to the coronavirus. Some companies had employees work from home, while others enacted new safety procedures like mandating the use of personal protective equipment. Following the Safer at Home order issued in March, most small businesses were forced to shut their doors for nearly two months.

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against the Safer at Home order, businesses across the state were able to open without any restrictions. The decision kept schools closed and allowed local governments – like Brown County and the City of Appleton – to impose their own stay-at-home orders. By Friday, May 15, local health officers were rescinding those orders, again reopening their municipalities.

Since March, tattoo artists have been on hold. Now, with the opportunity to reopen, some local shops are preparing for business under unprecedented circumstances.

WFRV Local 5 spoke with five Northeast Wisconsin tattoo shops – 3rd Dimension Tattoos, Colt’s Timeless Tattoo & Piercing, Skinny Buddha Tattoo, Tattoo Nouveau, and The Body Shop Tattoo and Piercing – to find out how they were affected by the coronavirus pandemic and how it has changed their business moving forward.

Is there anything your shop did while closed to drum up business, like selling gift certificates? What sort of financial assistance, if any, were you able to obtain?

According to Brett Terrien, otherwise known as Burt Holez, owner of De Pere’s 3rd Dimension, February through June is the peak time of year for the tattoo industry.

“While running gift certificate sales help, they don’t come close to replacing the lost income due to the Stay At Home order,” says Holez. “As a father, husband, son, and proud member of this community, I do understand why [the Safer at Home order] was necessary.”

3rd Dimension Tattoo & Piercing

Skinny Buddha, like 3rd Dimension, offered a gift certificate sale in April. Joseph Lambert, one of Skinny Buddha’s senior artists, says that they had to end the sale after one weekend because of the overwhelming response. He went on to explain that as self-employed artists, applying for unemployment or financial assistance for the shop was challenging, adding that they needed to rely on the shop’s accountant for assistance.

David Jacobs, owner of The Body Shop, says they’ve had to dip into savings to support themselves. He and the two other tattoo artists used items like gift cards to “try and bring in some money while waiting for the PUA unemployment to start.”

The Body Shop Tattoo and Piercing

“Like most small businesses,” Jacobs said, “all of the bills are still coming in and we’re trying to make enough just to cover the rent and utilities for the month.”

Colt Brown, artist and owner of Colt’s Timeless Tattoos and Empire Inks, says most of his 16-member crew used the closure to reset and relax. They decided not to sell gift certificates or try to book future appointments.

“We found it too risky to accept money without knowing when we could work it off,” Brown tells WFRV Local 5, adding that they’ll begin taking appointments on Wednesday, May 20 – the same day the Fox River Mall, which houses Colt’s Timeless, reopens. He says they were approved for the PPP loan from the Small Business Association.

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McKenzie Austin and Teri Miller work together at their nearly 7-year-old shop, Tattoo Nouveau, in Allouez. Like Brown, Austin says they decided against offering gift certificates while closed down.

“We’ve had some really incredible clients reach out and offer to buy them as means of supporting us through the pandemic, and we’re grateful,” Austin tells WFRV Local 5. “Unfortunately, gift certificate sales in bulk really only delay the inevitable. When we do return to work, if we had to honor dozens of gift certificates, we’re still in the same boat of not making money on that day versus not making money during the pandemic. The financial loss is still there, whether it’s now or several months from now.”

Are you open and are you currently scheduling appointments?

Colt’s Timeless and Empire Inks opened on May 20. According to a Facebook post, both businesses will function as appointment-only for the time being.

Holez says 3rd Dimension will open for normal operations on May 26. They’re currently asking those who are sick to not come in for their appointments. For clients that do come in, Holez says the shop has a sanitation station at the front counter as well as several touchless sinks, soap dispensers, and paper towel dispensers. Clients are asked to come alone or with just one guest. No one under 18-years-old is allowed in until June.

Lambert tells WFRV Local 5 that all eight of Skinny Buddha’s artists unanimously agreed to wait a few weeks to reopen, even though the Safer at Home order has been lifted.

“Our clients are too important to us and we all have been responsible enough to save and prepare so that we do not have to get back as soon as possible,” Lambert says. “We want to put responsibility above our economic interests.”

In a Thursday, May 14, Facebook post, Skinny Buddha owner Lisa Prewie said that renovations are scheduled to be complete on May 29. Then, Prewie says a reopen date will be announced.

Austin with Tattoo Nouveau says she won’t begin scheduling clients until late June due to concerns that an aggressive increase in cases could cause her shop to close. In a Saturday Facebook post, Austin says the scheduling of new clients may not happen until October.

“Clients who were forced to reschedule will have first priority when it comes to re-booking, and we both have so many who were forced to reschedule, so it’ll take us at least a month or two just to get everyone who had been waiting back in,” Austin tells WFRV Local 5. “Of course, we’re expecting some cancelations since a lot of people have been impacted financially, but I’ll personally be taking things one week at a time when it comes to rescheduling clients. I can’t help but feel if we open things too soon and experience another wave, we may be forced to shut down again with even stricter requirements. For that reason, I’d like to avoid booking out 4-5 months in advance like we normally do.”

Since closing, Jacobs said The Body Shop has received messages daily from clients wanting to get an appointment as soon as possible. He added that, after talking with the other artists, they all agreed to extend their hours during the week and weekends.

What changes can clients expect when they are able to come into your shop?

Lambert says Skinny Buddha, which has been in business for almost 11 years, is receiving some remodeling while its doors are closed. He explains some walls are coming down to open up the floor plan and allow for safe distancing between artists and clients.

“None of us know how long the effects of this thing will last or how long it may take for a vaccine or any kind of viable treatments to come along. We want to be sure that our clients feel safe and know that we have done all we can to ensure they stay healthy!” Lambert adds Skinny Buddha has ordered and received a huge shipment of face masks that they will require their clients to wear. Clients will also be asked to wash their hands and to not bring a friend or family member along for their appointment. Hand sanitizer will be made available at the front desk and entryways.

“We are very proud to have served the best clients in the area for over 10 years and hope to be around for at least another decade,” Lambert tells WFRV Local 5. “We would like to thank all of our clients and friends for their understanding and support.”

In De Pere, Holez says he’s worked to build a positive reputation for his shop and he’ll continue to do so by adhering to recommendations from the CDC and public health officials. He adds that they’ll encourage clients who don’t feel well to reschedule.

“People don’t typically get tattooed when they aren’t well anyway – it can impact healing time and take away from the experience. We want our loyal and new customers to feel safe and comfortable at all times,” Holez explains.

Austin explains there will be a few changes to how Tattoo Nouveau operates – bookings and consultations done over Facebook or email, prohibiting clients from bringing friends along to appointments, and requiring clients to wear masks.

“I understand this will upset some people, but I’d rather be embarrassed for overreacting than regretful for not reacting strongly enough, you know?” Austin added.

What changes to your business do you expect to see when you do reopen?

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Tattoo Nouveau

Tattoo Nouveau’s Austin she thinks there will be a noticeable amount of cancelations from clients who were financially impacted or those using caution in light of the virus.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be as easy for many other establishments, and my heart really goes out to them. Even with us, I doubt it’ll be ‘business as usual’ when we re-open,” Austin tells WFRV Local 5.

For those concerned about the safety of getting a tattoo, The Body Shop’s Jacobs explained that artists are already trained in bloodborne pathogens and cross-contamination practices because of the nature of their work.

“I’m going on 26 years of tattooing and piercing and that was the first thing that was taught was how to sanitize and be as sterile as possible. We wash hands multiple times daily between clients and sterilize our work areas every morning and between clients and again at night when we leave,” Jacobs tells WFRV Local 5. He, like Austin, says he feels people may still be hesitant to sit close to artists at first. “I’d just like people to know tattoo shops are doing their best to provide a safe and sterile place to come and get their art.”

In a Saturday Facebook post, The Body Shop announced they would open Monday, May 18, with changes like providing masks to clients who wish to use them, opening for appointments only, and limiting the number of individuals allowed in the store, including prohibiting anyone under the age of 16 into the shop.

Brown went on to say that they are making a safety video for their clients to watch.

“This will help ensure that everyone understands how to move fluently throughout the studio. My staff is already trained to keep a sterile environment; this gives us the opportunity to help educate people on cross-contamination and being safe.” Brown tells WFRV Local 5 that they will require everyone to wear masks at all times, as well as frequent hand washing.

While local public health officials are encouraging businesses that are reopening to follow guidelines for their industry outlined by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, there are currently no specific guidelines for tattoo and piercing businesses.

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