For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Inkstop Tattoo.
In 1997, when tattoo shops were again legalized in New York City, Eric Rignall was one of the first artists to legitimately sketch on skin in the East Village. His shop, Inkstop Tattoo, at 209 Avenue A wasn’t easy to establish because most landlords refused to house his needlework. “They figured tattoo shops meant trouble, bikers and gangs,” said Rignall. An established tattoo artist from New Jersey, where inking was legal, helped vouch for him. “I also put down a pretty large deposit to really show I was serious and could be trusted. I’m sure at first they kept a pretty watchful eye on me, but they quickly saw that all I was about was doing high-quality tattoos,” he said. Almost 16 years later, Mr. Rignall gave The Local a glimpse into what makes his ink flow.
How did you reassure your landlord you were a serious business owner and not going to bring the negative stereotypes around ink to the space?
I had to show them I was really serious about what I was doing right away. Having the money up front made that pretty clear. Also, this was my second business. I had a screen-printing business for about seven years before.
How has your business evolved since 1997?
Every few years we change a little and get better at running things. We’ve become more efficient. Taking credit cards instead of cash was huge for us. It really made things run better. We streamlined where we bought all our stuff, which helped a lot, like our medical supply places. We stopped getting them from a bunch of different places and started to find the one, right spot for us to buy our products. We improved our hours of operation so they were set and not scattered.
A lot of tattoo shops are open super late. Are those super-late hours productive for you?
We used to do the really late thing when we first started, but now we are 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and Fridays and Saturdays 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Any earlier would be tough.
There are so many tattoo parlors in the East Village. Is that good for competition or annoying?
I don’t think it’s bad for business. It draws people to the area. There are a lot of bars and restaurants changing here, so it’s good for us.
I think it might be fair to say that there are more tattoo parlors in the East Village than there are Starbucks.
That’s a good thing. Now there really is a wide range of people getting tattoos. We have a lot more professional people coming in to have work done. With each year we’re in business we get busier and busier.
How directly has the poor economy affected business?
The economy has caused a few people to cancel or postpone appointments due to getting laid off. I definitely noticed an uptick in that in the last year. Before that, it was fairly consistent with years past, if not a bit better. The worst year would be the first one I opened. Income slowly increased annually with an increased reputation and word-of-mouth referrals. I’d say the best year was two years ago.
Do you find yourself something of a therapist, counseling people on what to do and what not to do to their bodies?
It’s kind of like being a barber. You’re sitting in front of the person for hours, so it is intimate. It’s my job to make them comfortable. A lot of people coming in are nervous. I advise people against getting a name of a boyfriend or girlfriend across their body often. I have suggested to clients who are 18 to consider not getting a tattoo on their hand since they don’t know yet what the social and work consequences will be for that. I try to warn people about that. I stay away from the face. For us to do the face, you have [to] already have [had] a lot of tattoos for us to consider.
How much work do you have on your body?
I have about 140 hours on my body and I’m not done yet.
How has your rent changed?
The rent has a bit more than doubled since I started 16 years ago. I started with a ten-year lease. After it was up I negotiated another ten-year lease with a four-percent increase. I plan on staying longer when it’s up. We don’t have the same crazy costs as bars that have to worry about insurance and get higher rents. It’s pretty reasonable.
How many people do you work on in a week?
About three people a day, five days a week and that’s like 15 people a week for about eight hours a day. We’re booked up over the next few months, so we’re pretty good.
What kind of marketing do you all do?
Mostly word of mouth and our website. We used to do the magazines in the beginning, advertise in them, but not anymore. I stopped all that stuff. We use Facebook a little but the website is really what we rely on. I had to put word out any way possible that I was open. Flyers, putting business cards everywhere, yellow pages — they were still used in ’97. I advertised in the tattoo magazines, back of newspapers when I could afford it, and handing out t-shirts.