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Tats the spirit! Recession isn't slowing the tattoo business

| Friday, May 29, 2009

The number of people getting inked isn't fading because of the recession.

"I'm still getting people who have lost their jobs or have gotten laid off," said Jarrod Beaumont, owner of Area 51 Tattoo in Overbrook. "They are getting tattoos because they got laid off."

Beaumont and other local tattoo shop owners said business is buzzing despite the hardships some customers are facing.

"If you have a tattoo and you know the feeling of having one, getting a new one makes you feel really good," said Veronica Ray, tattoo artist and owner of South Side Tattoo on East Carson Street. "I think that's a good thing that people are trying to keep their heads up and feel good."

Ray said business has been as steady. Eric Rumfelt, a tattoo artist at Angry Moon Tattoo and Piercing in the South Side, said business typically increases in the summer, but it's been up more than usual this year.

"We usually only go by appointment on Friday and Saturday, and we've been getting booked solid," he said.

Point Park University student Rachel Manz, 28, of Brookline said she is "living on loan money" and what she earns from a part-time job as a child-care worker. Yet she was willing to drop $150 for an owl tattoo Wednesday at Ray's shop.

The symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, represents all she's been through with a recent illness, she said.

"People are still eating out. I imagine it's the same mentality (with tattoos)," Manz said. "When you are nervous or depressed, you have to do something to cheer yourself up."

It's unclear how many tattoos are inked each year, said Ken Smith, art director for Tattoo Artist magazine, an industry trade journal. But anecdotal evidence suggests shops nationwide are enjoying a boom, he said.

Customers don't consider tattoos an accessory like a watch or necklace but rather a part of who they are, Smith said.

"I think everybody has been getting tattooed for so long, it's an art form, and, with any kind of art, it's something that takes their mind off things," he said. "That's why I believe the shops are staying afloat more than any other industry is."

Artists said their customers tell them they spend the money -- sometimes hundreds of dollars — because they feel they're making a long-term investment in something meaningful.

"It can't get stolen; it won't rust," said Jim Allchin, owner of Island Avenue Tattoo in McKees Rocks. "It's the only thing you take to the grave with you."

Melissa Tarr, 27, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is unemployed but saved enough to pay for the final touches on a tiger tattoo Wednesday at Allchin's shop.

"I do make sure I have enough for a tattoo when I come (to Pittsburgh)," said Tarr, who grew up in Pittsburgh and is visiting family in Bethel Park.

She admits it seems counterintuitive to spend about $300 on body art when she's out of work, but she said the tattoo is important to her.

"I'm not doing anything else right now," she said.

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