It’s been months since some Gainesville tattoo artists have had a blank canvas in front of them. Now equipped with masks and thermometers, they can once again put needle to skin.
The Alachua County Commission voted May 19 to clarify that tattoo and piercing shops were allowed to reopen along with other nonessential retail businesses.
Guidelines and restrictions have been set for nonessential business through Alachua County’s May 17 emergency order. These mandates include the use of facial coverings, capacity limited to 50 percent and social distancing when possible. Some tattoo parlors have also required the use of digital touchless thermometers and asked clients to come to appointments alone.
When Mallory Goolsby walked through the door of Anthem Tattoo Parlor, located on 230 NW Second Ave., she was greeted by a laminated sign: “LET’S ALL DO OUR PART AND TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER, GAINESVILLE!”
The 27-year-old Gainesville dental assistant visited the shop May 25 to make up an appointment she rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Goolsby was tattoo artist Tim Strating’s first client since the shop’s March 21 closure.
Strating decorated Goolsby’s arms with two cicadas to represent her childhood memories of collecting the insects in the woods. Cicadas can spend the first 17 years of their lives in the ground. They represent that some beautiful things are worth the wait, Goolsby said. Just like her new tattoos from Strating.
Goolsby said Anthem helped her by remaining in contact throughout the closure. While it wasn’t the experience Gooslby had with previous tattoos, she said she also felt safe throughout the tattoo process.
When Goolsby arrived at the shop, she and other clients stood outside until their appointments to ensure there were no large gatherings, and they were all asked to not bring guests, she said. She noticed that all tattoo artists stayed in their separate rooms, and their appointment scheduler worked remotely to keep close interaction at a minimum.
Despite the masks separating artists and clients, Goolsby felt like that the tattoo process was no less personal than she had experienced in the past.
“Tim and I chatted the whole time,” Goolsby said. “Even having the shop socially distanced with each artist and client in a different room didn’t make it feel any less welcoming or cozy. I was very pleased.”
For Strating, conversation with Goolsby felt natural and organic, as it had when he tattooed her in the past. They shared anecdotes about their return to work, as their jobs both involve interacting with others.
One topic the pair related to was wearing masks at work.
“Wearing a mask while tattooing is a little frustrating,” he said while laughing. “I’ve talked to people in all sorts of industries about this, and we didn’t realize how much hotter it would make us.”
Returning to his job was therapeutic, Strating said. He described his return as a “re-honeymoon phase” with the tattoo industry.
“Everything is exciting and monumental at the moment,” he said. “I’m a bit of an introvert in my everyday life, so it was really nice to have that interaction again.”
While he was concerned about safety, he wasn’t nervous about losing his talent over quarantine. He painted to channel his creativity. His wife and parents were overjoyed Strating was able to return to his job, he said.
Comparing business last spring to this spring would be “apples to oranges,” Strating said. However, Anthem is still experiencing demand from clients.
Strating said he and his fellow artists are taking their time to fully reopen because of the virus. While the shop can open at a higher capacity, he believes that caution and comfort are the shop’s main priority.
Since reopening, the shop has required staff to wipe door handles every time they are touched and mop throughout the day, instead of only at opening and closing.
Two months of closure hurt Anthem financially, but Strating saw opportunity despite the disarray.
“One of the things I've tried to stress to people is that I really tried to take it as a learning opportunity,” he said. “For me, I tried to put more of an emphasis on having a website and learning more about how to market myself.”
While the county gave tattoo shops the green light, Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t directly addressed the reopening of tattoo parlors, which has caused frustration among shop owners and employees.
“That's the hardest part for us,” Valkyrie’s Tattoo Owner Josh Montiel said. “The governor was asked point blank, ‘What about tattoo shops?’ and he just breezed right over the question, which was really irritating.”
Valkyrie’s Tattoo, located on 815 NW 23rd Ave., reopened Tuesday after having closed doors since March 24.
Montiel finished his last appointment the night of March 23. As the clock ticked toward 12:01 a.m., he made sure to secure his shop before nonessential businesses were asked to close.
Tax return season, which is the period of time between Jan. 1 to April 15, is the “Black Friday” of the tattoo industry, he said. Due to the shop’s closure, it felt about a 50 percent decrease in revenue compared to last year.
Montiel said limiting appointments to one person has hurt business because when friends come along with a client, they spontaneously get piercings or tattoos.
Only two artists can work in the building at the same time, he said. New customers’ appointments for tattoos and piercings are scheduled through calls, email and social media. He also said new clients are welcome, as long as they contact the shop in advance.
Valkyrie’s Tattoo has prioritized sterilization since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Montiel said.
“We keep our training up all the time,” he said. “We're always renewing bloodborne pathogen courses and first aid certificates. We’re following all the county restrictions along with the same guidelines we always have.”
Vinnie Fiorello, co-owner of Wunderland Custom Tattooing, located on 235 S. Main St., said the shop was able to reopen on Tuesday after being closed since March 20.
In the tattoo industry, fluctuations in business are common, Fiorello said. However, COVID-19 caused an atypical 93 percent decrease in his site’s internet traffic over the past two months of closures.
Fiorello also felt dissatisfaction from the lack of instruction from the state.
“It's been frustrating, but I think that if there's anything that we've learned, you just always use best practices anyway,” he said. “It's just about going the extra mile.”
After two months of backlogged appointments, previously scheduled clients were served first, Fiorello said. However, if an artist has a light schedule, they’re free to add new appointments.
Since reopening, Wunderland has been surprised by its new clients’ eagerness to be tattooed, he said. Artists work on an alternating schedule, and only two members of the staff are present at any time. Appointments must be made in advance through phone call or email.
While the shop looks to the future with excitement, Fiorello still reflects on their memories during quarantine.
Every Friday, Wunderland’s employees and owners had Zoom meetings to discuss the shop and relax with cocktails.
“Looking back, they were such important conversations to have in such a weird, wild and uncertain time,” Fiorello said.
While they aren’t able to return to business as usual, the shop’s May 26 reopening has helped employees return to a sense of stability after two months of no income and uncertainty.
“Having the tattoo shop open becomes a matter of being able to pay rent, being able to save and being able to take care of your family,” Fiorello said. “Morale is directly linked to the ability to make a living.”
Jeffy Scott is one of Fiorello’s senior tattoo artists.
Scott has done 10 tattoos over the past week back in the shop, he said. His most recent tattoo was of an octopus he did Tuesday night. Earlier that day, he had a moving experience of tattooing a team of nurses from UF Health Shands Hospital that had rescheduled their appointments.
Two of the nurses received matching tattoos as a symbol of their friendship. Even though they were tattooed separately, he said seeing the nurses’ excitement brightened his day.
“I kept having euphoric moments of being so happy to be able to get back to work,” he said.
His happiness to return to work is accompanied with awareness for his family’s safety, Scott said. When he comes home from work, he keeps his shoes outside and showers before touching anything.
While he has concerns about COVID-19, Scott feels comfortable and safe within the walls of Wunderland.
“And I know we're not medical professionals, but I know that the strict cleaning we do and how we take care of our business. I feel safer at work than I do at Publix,” Scott said.
Guests at Anthem Tattoo Parlor are welcomed by a sign designating safe protocols, masks and a digital thermometer when they enter the door for their appointments.