The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 1st

Lack of Tattoo Parlor in Chapel Hill Not Political Issue

About a half-dozen tattoo parlor employees and managers said a potential town bias against parlors has been mentioned in the body art community.

"I heard that the people who give up a permit to build certain places won't let you have a parlor (in Chapel Hill)," said Archie, an employee of Raleigh's Blue Flame Tattoo.

Statements from town officials prove this opinion to be about as true as Ray Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man" hallucinations.

"(Finances) would be the major drawback," said Robert Humphreys, executive director of the Downtown Commission in Chapel Hill. "There have been tattoo parlors before, but because of lack of space in Chapel Hill, it is not economically feasible."

In actuality, parlors are just another business to Chapel Hill. "Tattooing is something that's subject to regulation by the state or by the county, but we don't have any regulations here in Chapel Hill," said Ralph Karpinos, the town attorney.

To open a parlor in Chapel Hill, one would have to refer to and follow North Carolina state law. The law defines tattooing as "the inserting of permanent markings or coloration, or the production of scars, upon or under human skin through puncturing by use of a needle or any other method" and places constraints on all businesses and individuals who practice such work.

These limitations require obtaining a state license and undergoing an inspection by the Commission for Health Services each year. "We have to keep things clean and be able to demonstrate a sterile chain of events and a clean place," said Mike Erwin, shop manager at Dogstar Tattoo in Durham.

Additionally, parlors must follow various procedures to prevent future legal problems.

"Basically, we can't tattoo anyone under 18," said Tony Lawson, a tattoo artist at Start 2 Finish Tattoo in Raleigh. "Women can't be pregnant and no one should have been drinking. Also, everyone has to sign a waiver, and we are required to copy their ID to keep on file."

These specifications, along with the many steps of permits, licenses and zoning, might be partially responsible for Chapel Hill's dearth of tattoo parlors. Especially daunting to aspiring parlor owners, parlors must locate themselves in commercial space, which, in Chapel Hill, is fairly competitive to secure and comes complete with high rent.

Humphreys said rent is $15 to $35 per square foot and is highest on E. Franklin St. He also said the combination of low supply and high demand for space yields a business atmosphere of high competition. "Usually when a business closes there are 10 to 15 people in line for the place," he said.

Ultimately, the expense of running a tattoo parlor is probably what keeps Chapel Hill from joining the rest of the Triangle in providing body art services.

Along with the rent, parlors must also pay town fees. Karpinos said all Chapel Hill businesses are required by town code to obtain a privilege license. This license allows parlors to buy the privilege of doing business within Chapel Hill and provides the town with money and with information about businesses within town limits.

But this regular business licensing is as much as the town requires.

"We don't have an ordinance that regulates tattoo parlors," Smith said. "I believe that there was a tattoo parlor on Franklin once. There's no reason why there can't be one there again."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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