WARSAW — Another barrier has fallen and the ink is flowing.
While Warsaw has had numerous tattoo parlors over the years, the number doubled from two to four Tuesday after a pair of businesses won approval to operate from the city board of zoning appeals.
Empire Ink owner Mike Vest was approved for a special exception in a C-2 district for operations at 600 E. Winona Avenue, where appointments were already booked Tuesday. His request sailed through with no opposition and even won support from a nearby church.
The challenge was more steep for Nathan Underneath, whose business, Moving Pictures Tattoo Cinema was approved in a more restrictive C4 District, becoming the first tattoo parlor in the downtown business district.
Underneath — whose legal name is Nathan Prieshoff — faced opposition from Cindy Dobbins, the city council member who represents the downtown business district, as well as three business owners. Their main concern was whether a tattoo parlor would be detrimental to the downtown and whether approval by the BZA would open up a “pandora’s box.”
But Underneath topped that concern with signatures of support from 120 people who live or work in the area as well as the Warsaw Community Development Corporation and his landlord, city councilman Mike Klondaris.
The city plan department also recommended the request be approved, saying research indicates concerns about tattoo parlors being a detriment “have not been documented in any substantiated way.”
The opening of a downtown tattoo parlor marks a sharp turnaround compared to eight years ago when the BZA — against the city planner’s wishes — denied requests from two tattoo parlors to include the word ‘tattoo” in its signage. The move drew protests from supporters.
While some parlors later began using tattoo on signs, that decision was formally reversed last year when the owners of Take Action, pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against such limitations.
A small group of supporters attended Monday’s hearing for Underneath’s business. That, and the petition helped send a message about the mainstream acceptance of tattoo businesses, he said.
He emphasized the benefits his business would bring to the downtown, which has struggled with storefront vacancies in recent years.
That helped overcome the opponents’ arguments.
“I was surprised at the lack of factual reasoning,” he said. “It all came down to a matter of personal opinion.”
Both store owners invested in interior renovations beforehand and were banking on the BZA’s approval. Endeavor spent $8,000 in improvements. Vest said he spent about $7,000.
Empire Ink has three rooms set aside for tattoo artists and another for piercing. They employ four artists.
Underneath has an art gallery in front where his paintings are displayed. The tattoo studio is in the back. In addition to himself, he has another employee.
Other tattoo parlors in Warsaw include Take Action on North Detroit Street and MostHigh Tattoos & Body Piercings on East Winona Avenue.
Vest said he’s not worried about competition because of the mainstream popularity of tattoos.
“Honestly, there could be 100 shops and it wouldn’t bother me one bit,” Vest said. “We all have our own clientele. People come to us because they like what we do.”