There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the sight of a tattoo parlor moving into the neighborhood meant a downward slide for the whole area.
Usually followed by strip clubs and pawn shops, tattoo parlors were considered a troublesome blight; the domain of outlaw motorcycle gangs, ex-cons and rowdy sailors.
But that has changed as the tattoo has gone mainstream, indelibly imprinting itself onto American culture as an acceptable, expressive and artistic art form.
“Back in the day there were no laws about tattooing,” said Jim Pullin, owner of Art in Motion, 415 S. Broadway St., Medina. “Now a tattoo shop needs approval by the board of health.
“There are regular inspections, with safety and sanitation as key issues. And tattoo artists must have an apprentice certificate.”
Medina County is home to many tattoo shops, including at least three in the city of Medina.
Art in Motion is one of the oldest shops in Northeast Ohio. Pullin opened his shop on West Liberty in 1989 and moved to South Broadway in 1991.
Pullin has worked with the Ohio Health Department to establish guidelines for all tattoo shops. He apprenticed in Hollywood, Calif., at a shop called the Purple Panther.
“I’m an electrician by trade but when I got my first tattoo I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
He spent more than a year learning to become a tattoo artist.
Pullin believes Ohio regulations need to be even stricter.
“Equipment suppliers should stop selling to the general public,” he said. “Right now anybody can buy tattoo equipment and start tattooing friends at a party. If you’re going to get a tattoo, go to a reputable, health-department-approved tattoo shop and make sure the tattoo artist has an apprentice certificate.”
Ryker Parsons, a tattoo artist at New Ink Tattoo, 426 S. Court St., agrees.
“The first thing you should notice in a tattoo shop is cleanliness,” he said. “Then ask to see the tattoo artist’s portfolio.
“Go for an artist who has an apprentice certificate and experience. The artist should understand the integrity of the piece you want.”
Parsons, who is also a fine art painter, said tattooing is one of the hardest mediums to work with.
“The body is a curved surface and there is a pain factor,” he said. “It’s not like a canvas where you can paint and paint until it’s done.
“You need to understand your customer’s pain tolerance and work with it.”
Chad Zarefoss, owner of Scapegoat Tattoo, 245 S. Court St., said every tattoo shop has its own personality.
“Our goal is to make customers feel welcome,” he said. “We love what we do. We’re here for eight hours and then we go home and draw tattoos for the next day.”
Zarefoss chose Scapegoat’s location to be close to the action on Medina Square.
“We love the location,” he said. “We can participate in the festivals. I live in Medina and I care about what happens in our city.
“I want my shop to have a positive impact on the area.”
New Ink manager Kosta Ostojin feels the same way.
“We want to project a positive vibe — we want our customers to feel comfortable,” he said. “We’ve built a reputation on custom designs.
“We feel every customer should have an original piece.”
Tattoos have a long and rich history. Female mummies from 2000 BC sport intricate tattoos.
The prehistoric Ice Man, whose mummified body was discovered on the Italian/Austrian border in 1991, has a series of dots and crosses tattooed 5,200 years ago on his spine, knees and ankles.
Throughout history, the significance of tattoos has run deeply within cultures, sometimes trumpeting social status, sometimes serving as lucky talismans, and sometimes remaining unfathomable adornments of ancient civilizations lost to time.
Today, tattoos can carry a certain significance. Or not.
“Not every tattoo has to mean something,” Zarefoss said. “Some tattoos are just designs that the customer happens to like. But I can tell you where I was every time I got a tattoo.
“Each tattoo marks a moment.”
Ostojin believes tattoos are a way for an individual to express his or her personality. “And sometimes it’s just art for art’s sake,” he said.
Pullin said tattoos have definitely gone mainstream.
“Everyone gets them — doctors, lawyers, athletes,” he said. “You can’t point at someone anymore and guess whether they have a tattoo or not.
“At our shop, we’ve given tattoos to people from 18 to 75.”
There’s no question tattoos are growing in popularity. A Harris Poll, which surveyed 2,016 U.S. adults online in January 2012, found 21 percents — one in five — had at least one tattoo. That was up from 16 percent and 14 percent when the question was asked in 2003 and 2008.
The survey also found women are slightly more likely than men to have a tattoo, for the first time since the question was first asked.
Ostojin recalled a female customer close to age 70 who received seven tattoos in one year. “She had cancer and had a few tattoos done just before she started chemotherapy. She said it would cheer her up.”
The average tattoo can take anywhere from 40 minutes to eight hours or more to complete. Some customers return a few times to have the tattoo finished.
Cost can range from $50 to thousands of dollars, depending on the design, although New Ink Tattoos offers a $25 Black Friday special every year.
Some tattoo shops also do piercings. There are old-school tattoo artists who work with standard designs —what the tattoo industry calls “flash artwork” and tattoo artists who prefer to design whatever a customer can dream up.
“There are a lot of tattoo artists now,” said Parsons.” I think of it as less of a tattoo and more of an art piece.”
As Christianity spread through Europe in the fourth century AD, Roman Emperor Constantine outlawed tattoos, creating a stigma that endured until the late 20th century.
Today’s tattoo shops and artists are tearing down that prejudice and granting the tattoo a status in western society it has not enjoyed since Constantine.
But Zarefoss doesn’t see any reason to fuss. “We’re just tattooing people,” he said, “We’re not changing the world. We’re just helping people to be happy.”
Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.