Athens is home to many popular tattoo and piercing shops, each of which receive a great deal of business from Ohio University students as well as local consumers. 

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, where non-essential businesses have been shut down and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has issued a stay-at-home order, these tattoo and piercing businesses, where the artists are paid by commission, have been greatly impacted. Each of the shops will be pushing back prior appointments to future dates and returning deposits upon request by the customers.

James Kisor has been a tattoo artist for over 20 years and currently owns the shop Decorative Injections alongside his wife. Kisor said prior to DeWine ordering the tattoo businesses to close, his team had already decided it would be beneficial for them to do so.

“I didn’t want to prematurely shut down, but I was worried about myself and my family as well as my employees and their families,” Kisor said. “So we were thinking it might be the right idea to close, and then they shut us down anyway.”

Thomas Green, a tattooer at Thunder Bunny, has been tattooing for 22 years. Green mentioned the shutdown would be inevitable due to the close proximity tattoo artists and piercers are required to have with their customers, a factor that would negate the 6 feet of distance suggested in the social distancing orders. 

“I have friends that tattoo all over the world, so I had been following their progress during all of this, so I tried to get as many appointments in as I could because I knew I was gonna be out of work,” Green said. “I was halfway through a tattoo, and my phone had like nine messages from people I know who tattoo in Ohio who said, ‘Well, I guess we’re out of work.’ So I finished up the tattoo and went home.”

At the start of the pandemic, the shops began to take precautions in relation to sanitation. However, Green emphasized that the shops already engage in precautionary measures on a daily basis.

“Tattoo shops are already very cautious. We just assume everybody is sick all the time, and we’re constantly cleaning all day on a regular basis no matter what is going on,” Green said. “But we started going in early every day and cleaned the entire place and did so in between customers as well. We also decided to do appointments only, and we didn’t let anybody bring any of their friends in with them.”

Despite the nationwide panic surrounding the spread of the pandemic, Kisor said there was not an alteration in business prior to the closing being issued.

“It seemed like it stayed pretty busy,” Kisor said. “I thought people wouldn’t be interested in getting tattoos or piercings and spending that extra money when this is all happening, but it didn’t really slow down at all. People were still coming to the door and still emailing, trying to make appointments even up until a couple days ago.”

Shawn Hawks is a tattoo artist who opened Skin Hooked Tattoo & Body Piercing with his wife about eight years ago. Hawks began tattooing in 1997 after frequently drawing tattoos for him and his friends while he was in the Marine Corps. When this pandemic rose in the U.S., Hawks said it deeply affected the shop’s business. 

“This all hit us right during our busy season where kids want to get their tattoos and piercings around the time of spring break, and we were booked all the way through the middle of April,” Hawks said. “We tattoo and pierce by appointment, so when they shut us down, it shut our income completely down.”

Despite the devastation accompanying this stressful time, Green said his fellow tattoo artists can still find inspiration and business amid the negativity.

“Tattooers generally, in my opinion, we’re kind of workaholics,” Green said. “It’s not that we chose this job. This job chose us. So I think everybody’s sitting at home painting, and I know a lot of people who are selling their art and doing commissions online.”