How tattoo parlors are reopening in West Michigan

Holly Young was in the process of getting a large piece tattooed, when COVID-19 hit. Large designs often take multiple sittings and her appointment to get color added to her new tattoo was suddenly cancelled. 

“I knew from the beginning of the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order that I would finish the work as soon as it could be done safely for me and my artist,” says Young in an email response. 
Similarly, Michelle Maley was planning on taking her 15-year-old daughter to get her ears pierced before the order was put in place. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the order in March and this Monday, June 15, after months of shuttered doors, tattoo and piercing parlors across Michigan will be allowed to reopen ... with restrictions.

“I am still planning on getting her ears double pierced, but I am going to wait a few weeks to see if Michigan has any increases in coronavirus cases,” says Maley in an email response. She also wants to look into what procedures will be in place. Greenlion Studios. Photo credit Matthew Dippel.

The requirements for reopening are described in Executive Order 2020-114, including general workplace requirements in addition to guidelines for specific industries. Tattoo and piercing parlors are grouped under personal care services, along with hair salons and shops with tanning, massage, and cosmetology services, with guidelines such as posting signs at entrances and requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings. Face coverings, however, may be temporarily removed for identification purposes or if a customer is receiving services that require it be removed, such as for a nose or mouth piercing. In this case the employee is required to wear goggles or a face shield in addition to a face covering, according to the guidelines.  

Many of the state’s requirements are similar to the guidelines listed by the Alliance of Professional Tattooists in its protocols for business reentry during the pandemic.

BJ Johnson has owned Greenlion Studios for over three years, but has been tattooing in Grand Rapids for over 22 years.

“We received emails from both the state and county health department,” says Johnson, in regards to reopening procedures. 

Despite being in an industry that already has high standards for sanitation, Johnson has a list of precautions and procedures he’s taking for his shop, especially being in close proximity to the public. 

Masks are required by both employees and customers, hand washing will be required upon entry, there will be no outside food, and no one is being allowed inside other than the person getting tattooed. They also plan on taking temperatures and recording guests for contact tracing purposes. 

“I don’t think this is something to be taken lightly at all,” he says. 

The Eastown shop is a collective, private studio where each artist works independently and by appointment only, which leaves procedures for things such as consultations under the discretion of each artist. This Monday, two out of four artists will be returning to the studio. 

Will those who had to put off a new tattoo or those who dreamt up a new design during stay at home orders, return to their favorite studios? Only time will tell, but after being closed for over two months, the industry faces a busy time ahead, having to reschedule already existing appointments, in addition to scheduling new appointments. 

Young already has her appointment rescheduled and is looking forward to seeing her tattoo evolve. “I am also eager to support the local, black-owned economy of which my artist, DeAnthony Carter, is a part of here in Grand Rapids,” she says. “I am not looking to go into larger shops/salons that have multiple people inside at any given time right now.”

It’s no secret that many businesses have taken a hit over the last few months, and especially those that are small and locally-owned. Ignacio Hernandez of Aztec Ink.

Ignacio and Claudia Hernandez are the owners of Aztec Ink, a Hispanic and family-owned studio in Wyoming. 

“We won’t be able to take walk-ins and the majority of our customers are walk-ins...they say ‘oh, I want to get a tattoo,’ and they just want to come down right away. People don’t want to wait and make an appointment,” says Claudia. So that is for sure going to be challenging and we’re gonna take a big loss on that I’m pretty sure.”

Similar safety procedures will be in place at both Greenlion Studios and Aztec Ink. “We are requiring that everyone wears a face mask upon arrival and during the whole entire time they’re being tattooed,” says Claudia. 

In addition, no one will be allowed to join those being tattooed and no more than four people will be allowed in the waiting area.

Customers shouldn’t have to worry about the healing process of new procedures, as long as they are practicing good hygiene and following guidelines. Both Greenlion Studio and Aztec Ink place a protective covering over new tattoos, which keeps them clean and protected for a few days. Once the covering is removed, the tattoo is about 95% healed, according to Johnson.

“Aftercare for a tattoo has always been a sterile process, so, if anything, applying that mindset to daily life has been the norm for a while now,” says Young.
She says that she’s more comfortable being in a room with one tattoo artist versus sitting inside of a bar or restaurant right now. “I am aware that COVID cases are on the rise as more economies open up nationwide and am being careful to only interact safely with people on a one-on-one basis,” she says. “I am more concerned with gatherings of unmasked people who want to be served than I am of two people who share the goals of health, safety, and art.”
“My artist shared the certifications he has attained to re-open, and I know he has a family he wants to protect from the virus so I am confident we can continue the work safely.”
After waiting a few weeks to see whether Michigan has any increases in COVID-19 cases, Maley is still planning on taking her daughter to get her ears pierced. “I am very concerned with getting any services done or even going to the store. I wear a mask when I go inside a business and constantly wash and sanitize my hands.”

Maley and her family have been following health recommendations and taking precautions such as using Apple Pay, having items delivered, and ordering online from restaurants. Aztec Ink

“The precautions I will be taking is both my daughter and me wearing a mask when we get her ears pierced. I want to make sure that the person who is piercing is wearing gloves and a mask. I will inquire if I need to make an appointment and what the procedures are in between appointments such as sanitizing the chair and anything else that is touched,” says Maley. “I know that the piercing items are disinfected but will they be disinfected more? I’m sure there will be a limited number of customers allowed in the store.”

“I do want them [customers] to know we’ll be taking extra precautions. We’ll have hand sanitizer available for them, we’ll be wiping down everything all day,” says Claudia. “I’ll be the person in the front making sure I’m wiping everything down.”
With industries across Michigan beginning to reopen, residents excited for a sense of normalcy will be faced with the decision of how to engage in pre-COVID activities and interactions, or whether they will at all. The tattoo and piercing industry, however, with its predisposition to upholding high standards of hygiene and cleanliness, is moving forward with confidence. 

Aztec Ink photos courtesy Ignacio Hernandez.
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