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The seeming decline of "street shop" tattoo parlors


cltattooing
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This topic came up in the shop the other day, I'd like to get some perspectives from tattooed folks who live in other areas of the country and the world.

It was Friday, I had just gotten to work and it was just me, Carlos, and Sean that day. Our 14th anniversary party was the following day and the shop had just painted 10 sheets of over 120 original designs for people to come in and pick from at the party. Between expressing our excitement about getting to tattoo fun designs all the next day, and mentioning how glad we were that it was so busy this January after a slow December, we got to wondering! How does a shop full of flash affect the flow of business?

FTW is located at the very tip of North Oakland, just a couple of blocks south of the Berkeley border on Telegraph Avenue, which runs all the way down to Downtown Oakland. We are just across the bay from San Francisco, and in Alameda County alone there are over 200 shops. 200 tattoo shops! Is it a coincidence that the 3 busiest shops in Oakland, one of which is ours, is a street shop with flash, paintings, and classic tattoo iconography covering every inch of space?

The bay area is undeniably changing. If you are looking for a place to live in the bay area, asking rent changes on a monthly basis and it's definitely not going down. With the sudden and dramatic influx of money to the area, it seems as though tattoo shops are gentrifying as well, becoming more like salons and art galleries, and less like street shops. With that being said, there is still a very large population of lower-income working class people who I would easily say are still the majority of folks here. Anyone who has worked in a street shop is familiar with what the "money makers" are as far as designs go. Usually, you will make a lot more money in a day if you tattoo several smaller designs over the course of the day versus the regular hourly for one or two longer pieces. Largely speaking, unless you are a known name in tattooing and booked steady, walk-ins pay your bills.

So as tattooers do, we catch up with our friends in other shops from time to time, often inquiring about work and whatnot and it seems like most people are working by appointment these days.

This was our theory:

Are gallery shops losing walk-ins on account of image? Do the blue collar people of Oakland go into a tattoo gallery and feel intimidated by fine art on the walls and think that nobody working there wants to do their tribal armband or kids' names for them? Are street shops more relate-able and comfortable for people who aren't necessarily looking to get a sleeve done?

I'm not saying that either way is right or wrong or even that my thoughts on this dynamic is totally correct. A lot of business comes from the internet for most tattooers here and now more than ever is it easier to be tattooing the subject matter and style that you're interested in doing, for that I am very grateful.

Is this something that you have experienced or noticed? Looking forward to hearing other perspectives.

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I like this thought process Ms. Carolyn. It's something that actually affects me. I live in Virginia. For those of you less informed, it is does not qualify as the most "progressive" state in the Union. The tattoo shop I work at is in Salem, Virginia, which is the sister city to Roanoke, Virginia. I would describe this town as behind the times. I can count on two fingers the tattoo shops in the area that look like "tattoo shops." You know, flash wall to wall and on the ceiling too. I'm lucky to be in one of them. It's the type of shop I want to work at. But, like I mentioned, the area is a little behind the times and alot of clients are very enticed by the "studio" "custom-only" "leather couch and plasma TV" look. So, those shops are a little busier in the area, even though, they are still doing the money maker tattoos. In a lot of places, Virginia is not the only place, flash is being replaced by glowing smart phones and Google/Pinterest images. That's the new flash at these types of shops. My coworkers and I have joked that those shops should just mount iPads to the wall.

But here is the exciting part. Clients who are discovering our shop, where the other three guys have been tattooing a combined 55 years, they walk in and say "Wow! This looks like a tattoo shop. This is so cool."

I think, at it's root, tattoo shops that look like tattoo shops, will always be the common denominator. You can up the fixtures and the fanciness, but having those archetypical designs on the wall that speak to the human psyche, and the folders of black and white tribal, lettering, and even Tattoo Brand/Cherry Creek stuff will provide the best jumping off point for clients.

Even Ed Hardy went back to having a "street shop" look after having Realistic. So all the shops who think they are breaking ground with a white-glove stark environment really are not. It comes and goes, as they say.

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I'm still relatively new at getting tattooed, but I've visited most of the shops in my area and this is what I've noticed. People walk in and all they want to do is ask an artist if they can tattoo XXX custom piece and ask how much it will cost. They never bother to look at the artwork on the wall or even pick up a portfolio.

The guy I've been getting tattooed by runs a street stop. He paints his own sheets and has them hanging wall to wall in his shop. He says that at his shop, about 50% of his clients want custom pieces and 50% of his clients will take something off the flash wall. At the other shops, it's probably more like 75% custom/25% flash. One shop that I visited had hardly any flash and the guy told me he does all custom work. He handed me a bunch of loose outlines to look at. It's like their customers have one design in mind and don't care about anything else.

I was checking out flash at a place that does mostly traditional pieces, and a guy came in and rushed right past the flash and portfolios and asked the artist behind the desk if he could do a skin rip, bio mech, circuit board of a guitar amp and then asked how much it would cost. The artist told him it was too much for a single tattoo, so he rushed out to find a shop that would do it.

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Great thread, Carolyn. Here's my perspective as a non-tattooer:

I used to live behind a street shop that's been around for a long time. I believe it opened in the early 80s, and it probably hasn't changed a lot since then. They don't take appointments at all, and it still runs by the old system where you come in, take a number, and you wait until you get called: you don't get to pick your artist, you get whoever is available next. They will kick you out for using your phone in the shop. The walls are totally covered in flash. There's some really cool stuff there. You can see Jack Rudy flash in the racks through the window, there's great Zulueta stuff on the walls, they have rad old Chris Garver flash, they have Greg Irons flash that the guy who owns the shop bought off Irons in person on the Queen Mary. They also have a load of Cherry Creek pinned up on the walls. Anyway, I became somewhat friendly with the tattooers there and I'd chat with them when I passed by while walking my dog, and what I'm going to say partly comes from conversations with them, partly from my own observations.

One of the tattooers said to me at one point that in the four or five years he'd worked at that shop he'd only had one day that he didn't do a tattoo. The tattooers there have also lamented how business used to be a lot better before a million shops opened up. Once when I was there looking through the flash, one of the tattooers said that nobody who gets tattooed there--and their clientele is very much the "lower-income working class people" mentioned above--looks through the flash and wants things from it, they want stuff they've printed off the internet or have on their phones.

I was getting tattooed a couple of weeks ago at another well-established shop, this one was one of the first custom shops in the city, and a woman came in wanting to get the bird silhouettes. They didn't have anybody available to do the tattoo at that moment, but they happily booked an appointment at a later date with her. The guy who runs this shop used to work at the shop mentioned above and even though he's well-booked out and does a lot of large custom work, he still has that real street shop demeanor and will do pretty much anything the client wants. He's not limiting himself to "his style".

I've seen tattooers at a lot of fancy shops, including ones I've seen mentioned on here as having a particular style (this is what happens when you think that instagram is real life, kids) doing whatever walks through the door. I've seen shops really pushing to be more open to walk-ins, not only because it brings in money, but also because it makes tattooers more well-rounded and just better tattooers. Though, thinking about it, the walk-ins the more high end shops are getting, at least from what I've seen, are more of the script on the ribs type of tattoos.

I guess when it comes down to it, there's a class issue at play here. From my observations, most shops still get walk-ins, but the people going to the fancier shops are better dressed.

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I can only speak for myself,but I like a street shop that also does custom work,and is filled with good flash.I'be been getting tattooed for 24yrs.and back then you just walked into a shop and got tattooed that day.I think 90% of the tattoos I have were done on a walk-in basis.I did just check out a shop in the city that had no flash on the wall,and the artists portfolios were on an iPad.It just didn't feel right to me.It was almost to futuristic looking inside.But I also like the mostly custom shops they have in the city like Kings Ave, Invisible,& NY Adorned,where they have their elaborate drawings hanging up at their station.I personally don't like to wait months to get an appointment with an artist,but I know for bigger pieces,and backpieces it's inevitable.I think since your working in a blue collar city,that your shop will be fine.I'm from Trenton,and the shops in the city do mostly walk-in traffic,and are doing fine.I like the fact that you can still walk-in to a shop and get a good tattoo that day.Tattooers like Mike P. Who did my koi,and has been tattooing since 1976 on a walk-in basis are the dying breed,but he's still going strong,and has a website now..

Designs by Michael Angelo - Home

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Not a street shop, per say, but last weekend I was in Kings Avenue getting tattooed, and Zac Scheinbaum was cranking out walk in after walk in while I was there. It was nice to see someone that you'd think of as kinda having a style and typically be booked in advance just doing names and script and Stars of David and treating it just as importantly as the bigger/custom one he was doing when I left.

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It seems to me like there'll probably always be both, now that both types exist. There are people who will always be more comfortable on one side of that fence than the other...people who feel uneasy about upscale interiors and courtesy salon fruit-infused water, and people who are intimidated as hell by tattoo shops full of tough guys, or who've managed to make mental divides for themselves over different kinds of tattoos, who may be interested in getting a tattoo 'but not that kind' of tattoo. For some people, that's probably part of the experience they're shopping for, in both directions -- the salon feeling, or the classic grit.

This is additional speculation on my part, totally based on my own anecdotal observations, but there also seem to be weird overlaps between people who don't like the idea of getting something from flash and want something 'custom' instead, and people who want the upscale experience (and people who got their tattoo concept off of Pinterest, which is totally ironic).

I read here all the time about how there's been a huge upswing in the number of tattoo shops out there -- shops that come and go with excess apprentices and artists that don't last long, people trying to reinvent the wheel, this whole glut of shops in any given place -- and I suppose catering to this demographic probably provides them with a whole lot of business. Trends seeking trends, or something. But, if I had to wager a guess, I'd say that the street-shop mentality you guys were talking about -- artists with a style who can still turn out solid walk-in work, who are willing to do that, who are dedicated to the craft/labor of tattooing as well as the art of it -- will probably always be more successful in the long-term. Places like that will endure. And maybe there are lots of high-end salon-style shops that employ this ethic, too; hell if I know. I think it's probably the at the heart of what's most important, beyond interior design.

...I listened a lot of lectures growing up about artists who forget that art is not just art, but also a business. Haha.

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tattoo shops that look like tattoo shops

AMEN!

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I will also add...tattoo shops that SOUND like tattoo shops.

I once walked into a shop and was like "WTF is anybody working", well they all were with rotary machines dialed down. Too friggin quiet for a tattoo shop, let those coil machines roar !

IMO there is only a select few tattoo shops that look/sound/smell tattoo shop in my city. There is an oversaturation of shops however...maybe better to call them "tattoo studios" or "tattoo salons" by the look of these places, the look of the artists, the look of the fresh tattoos that leave. I think of them as boutique studios and are much more accessible, less intimidating to the average customer. Very sterile, fashionable artwork on the walls, each room has a big screen tv...I personally think it's kinda wack, missing out on part of the experience. But hey, everyone has there own reasons for booking appointments at any tattoo shop or studio,,, there is even a couple headshop-tattoostudio places around that popped up...lol...definately would recommend those if you want to get a hatchet man tattoo (jokes)!

I like the open space, barbershop feel of the street shop. Bunch of tables crammed in the space, everyone is hanging in close quarters with shared misery and having a good time, bullshitting, dirty jokes, talking tattoos. Every square inch of the walls is covered in flash and artwork that looks tattoo-able. Tattoo shops that look like tattoo shops!

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Awesome read and wealth of personal and informational opinions.

I for one look for different things on a tattoo shop...

Time in business/owner span/Credibility/clean and over all look/artists/customer service/etc....

I had one bad experience looooong time ago that made me just never wanting to get a tattoo again.... This is why I am not immerse in the worlds of tattoos hence my ignorance/n00bnes in the scene.... But... Now days I tend to do allot of walk-ins and I am that one guy that walks in to your shop and ask for custom work and maybe set an appointment if everything sets right (I am bad with appointments)....

I am now starting to get in to it again. I love the art/collection/representation of tattoo's... I just wish there was more "walk-in friendly/consistent" shops in my area....

Let explain what I mean.... I walk in to a "studio" 3 weekends ago.... The front desk girl greeted us (Me and my brother) and was nice... She ask what I was looking for.... I Explain about wanting a cover up... She look clueless and said I need it to make an appointment with an artist because judging by the look of it I was looking at anywhere from 20hrs to 30hrs to get that covered up.... I asked her a few details regarding her "estimate" she quickly got a bit aggravated and said she had not been working there for long and she had no idea and all artists where busy.... Than she keep pressing for the appointment... I explain my problem with appointments and work.... Than she said "sorry" nothing we can do... Than she helped other people... I said thanks and walked away...

I really wanted to score and appointment with a well known artist there that I knew about but for me to keep appointments is hard due to the nature of my job/position/hours... Take the example with Brett Osborne... I had an appointment for Tuesday at 5PM and thanks to my job that quickly went down the drain...:mad: Is not like I can tell my job... "Sorry bud... cant do it... I have a appointment to get a tattoo".... I am sure that will not set well with my boss.... Results of this = Now he does not bother with my emails and I understand why.... :mad::mad::mad:

At any rate...

Went to another shop the same night explain my situation and had an appointment set for the next day. The cover up took about 8hrs total (Two sessions) and I was able to work out appointments with lots of flexibility... The Artists was flexible and understanding with me. Yes a small portion of my piece did not turn the way I wanted but I got contacted by the artist and owner... They will fix that area and make it how I want it. I am happy again :)

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My first tattoo was done in the consummate walk-in shop, S&W Tattooing in Amityville, NY. Flash all over the walls and you ordered it by letter and number. That "hot stuff" devil may have been an "A7" for all I know and they blew them out probably at least one a day for $25 each. The place jumped on a Friday and Saturday night, people lined up out the door waiting. Once you were in, you were on your way in 20 minutes. I don't recall them doing any bigger work, although the flash was there. We were in awe that a tattoo may cost over $100 and more than 1 session to complete it was unheard of.

I like to see shops with flash, it gives the impulsive customer something to look at and they make a decision quickly. For me it brings me back to the shops of 1975. I also like flash to give me ideas on what I like.

Some shops do have a dedicated walk-in day, which is cool. No appointment just stroll in and sit in the chair once something is picked out. Again, it takes me back a few decades. People were different then, most would dig up the $30-40 for one tattoo and get it done. Some stopped right there, some became festooned with postage-stamp sized tattoos. Why save up and get one good $200 tattoo when you can get 5 little ones, 1 every pay day?

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Great story, @Colored Guy, and cool idea for a thread, @cltattooing.

I love the feel of a shop crushed with flash. I've been in a few shops that have next to no flash on the walls, and it always feels very odd to me--even elitist at times. Plus, there's something about seeing artists deal with walk-ins that I really like. The negotiation, the hustle (on both sides of the dummy rail), and the end result.

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...people who want the upscale experience (and people who got their tattoo concept off of Pinterest, which is totally ironic).

Haaa! Wooooaah..totally ironic!

I enjoy the hustle and bustle that comes with getting work in a street shop. My experience in a studio setting was fun but I think having Hubbs and/or another friend there greatly contributed. Though I enjoy the company of that particular tattooer, the studio/salon vibe just isn't quite as festive.

I think that there will always be street shops. They are just too accessible to the general populace. Even though the internet has changed everything, the simplicity of the street shop as an entry point for the act of getting tattooed can't be beat for someone who has never gone down that road before.

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Ah the difference in the English language lol Here in Northern Ireland and rest of UK (as far as I know), tattoo studio refers to what you stateside call tattoo shop. A place that is what you would expect a tattoo studio to be like.

I admit to having to read the posts several times, to be sure I properly understood. 'Cause it's starting to get confusing!

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@Colored Guy Civ is publishing a book of flash from S&W in February. Could be worth checking out. Here's the Instagram for it:

Instagram

Whoa... very far out. Some of the flash looks familiar too. I'll be following this.

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Great story, @Colored Guy, and cool idea for a thread, @cltattooing.

I love the feel of a shop crushed with flash. I've been in a few shops that have next to no flash on the walls, and it always feels very odd to me--even elitist at times. Plus, there's something about seeing artists deal with walk-ins that I really like. The negotiation, the hustle (on both sides of the dummy rail), and the end result.

That was the game back in the day and further back. Walk in, ask how much, they say $40, you say $25 and either they counter or say, get the fuck out.

The whole walk in thing was to be in and out in a 1/2 hour, door to door. And the next guy or gal sits in a chair that's still warm. To have someone sit for an hour was virtually unheard of.

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A lot of times, many of these big shops we all admire and respect do tons of walk ins. They just don't post it on Instagram. Tattooers typically post stuff they want to do more of. Robert Ryan was telling me he does walk ins at Electric all the time.

When me and @Pugilist went to Electric it was on one of their walk-in Saturdays, and they do everything. It's rad. I got a vajra sword from Tom Yak, the next tattoo he did was a sergeant's chevrons. We lined up before the shop opened to make sure we could get a spot, and it was really cool because the shop gets all kind of people wanting all kinds of stuff, from people who were specifically going to Robert Ryan to get his stuff, to names, flowers, standard walk-in tattoos. I was talking with Tom about it while I was getting tattooed and he was super into tattooing like that and just giving people good tattoos. I got the impression that even though some of the tattooers there are pretty well-known and that people (like us!) will travel to go there, that it's the good local shop and it's just where you go to get tattooed if you live in the area.

Instagram really skews things. I've been tattooed at some really fancy big-name shops and even there very few of the tattooers there exclusively do "their style". I've read on here about tattooers who are super hard to book and will only work in their particular style, and then I've seen these same tattooers in the shop doing simple script on the ribs and that kind of stuff. The internet isn't real life.

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Just started getting tattoos last year. In my limited experience, popular NYC artists have long wait lists and turn down work. However, they do go outside their preferred style if they have gaps in their schedule, get cancellations, do the occasional "walk in" day.

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I remember when I first started thinking about my first tattoo, almost everybody would warn against "just getting something they have there" and I still hear it today. It wasn't until I actually started learning about tattoos that I discovered the history and concept behind flash. Lack of knowledge/ignorance like that is probably a factor as well.

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I got the impression that even though some of the tattooers there are pretty well-known and that people (like us!) will travel to go there, that it's the good local shop and it's just where you go to get tattooed if you live in the area.

Instagram really skews things. The internet isn't real life.

All true statements. When I was getting tattooed by Dobleman, Bryan Randolph did some yin yang symbol walk ins on two younger girls no problem at all. No complaints. He even said "that was fun" in a non-sarcastic tone.

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I remember when I first started thinking about my first tattoo, almost everybody would warn against "just getting something they have there" and I still hear it today. It wasn't until I actually started learning about tattoos that I discovered the history and concept behind flash. Lack of knowledge/ignorance like that is probably a factor as well.

Back in the day, if you wanted a tattoo right on the spot, you had to settle on something from off the wall. Shops were so busy on Fridays & Saturdays that if you hesitated, the chair would be yanked right out from under your ass.

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