The whirring of tattoo machines is replaced by a crushing silence as the province enters a second lockdown and the future of tattoo studios is uncertain.
In the past year tattoo studios were only open for five months. The time for studios to earn any money was short and made difficult as the cost of sanitization products, masks, and nitrile gloves rose significantly. All three have been industry standards before COVID. Tattoo prices have risen to compensate for the rise in price of their supplies while they were open.
“Affecting our bottom line is an understatement…when we opened we only killed our losses for the year,” said LolaTatts, a former Humber student who now owns Flesh Tattoos in Woodbridge.
On top of the supplies, LolaTatts is paying for security measures and insurance in case something happens to her store while it is closed.
The tattoo artist is openly against the lockdown. She agrees with the restrictions but said “small businesses are being unfairly targeted, box stores like Costco can remain open when they have hundreds of people only there to buy sweatpants.”
“To get (small businesses) on board they need to toss us a bone,” she says.
The tattoo industry is commissioned based and does not qualify for any of the financial aid that is currently available for small businesses. With the shutdown tattoo artists currently have little or no income, and some artists have children they take care of.
LolaTatts has two kids under 10 and one graduating high school. Another artist Angel Carrillo, co-owner of Southside Ink located on Lake Shore Blvd in Etobicoke, has a four-year-old daughter. The loss of income has made it hard to sustain their families.
“We have to budget,” said Carrillo. The uncertainty of when they will be able to operate again, the fluctuation of prices for equipment and having growing children has made budgeting very difficult for tattoo artists like LolaTatts and Carrillo.
“We were the first to close and the last to open, it put a strain on us,” said Carrillo. “With only five months of revenue we don’t know what the future will hold for us…I try not to lose myself in the negative but it’s really heartbreaking, especially when you put a lot of passion in the industry.”
“It’s devastating, as sole proprietors the money we make goes right to our families,” said LolaTatts. “We are talking about real life impacts of families because of this…how am I going to pay for the internet? I have three kids using it for online learning.”
Everyday LolaTatts and Carrillo receive multiple phone calls, emails, and direct messages from people asking them for tattoos and tattoo designs. LolaTatts said people call her to ask if she will open the shop secretly for them. She has declined all offers.
Carrillo would accept deposits and make designs for people during the lockdown so he could schedule them for a session once the store re-opens, however he has stopped doing this.
“I stopped taking deposits because I feel bad, other people need the money and I don’t know when the next time I can (tattoo) them is,” said Carrillo. “Safety is number one and it always has been.”
Safety and sanitization is a big part of the tattoo industry. Before COVID, studios regularly sanitized before and after every client to prevent the spread of bloodborne illness. With COVID even more precautions were added to ensure safety for everyone. LolaTatts said that they have added two hours of extra tasks to guarantee safety.
“The way (the government) is handling this is driving the (tattoo industry) underground, which makes it more dangerous for everybody,” said LolaTatts.
Before the new lockdown Flesh Tattoos implemented new rules to ensure safety of the artist and clients. They stopped doing walk-ins, a big part of business, and only took appointments. Clients could only enter the shop alone and would have to wear a mask at all times. Temperatures were taken and clients had to answer the COVID assessment questions. They have also added plastic barriers at the counter to cut down on contact as much as possible.
Southside Ink has a lot of the same precautions as Flesh Tattoos, but also refuses to do neck or face tattoos. Carrillo specifically avoids doing big tattoos to cut down on contact time with clients.
The contact tracing system was already implemented in a way before COVID. Tattoo studios required people to give the studio their contact information.
“Clients call us because they know we can keep them safe,” said LolaTatts. “I can guarantee (studios) are cleaner than hospitals.”
With the extensions of the lockdown it is uncertain when tattoo artists will be able to go back to work.