Jacky Lopez, an artist at True Anchor Tattooing in Downtown Fresno works on a tattoo for a client of the shop, which has been open for four years. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
The pandemic has brought more attention to what the world “essential” really means.
Tattoo artists were considered non-essential and temporarily forced to shut down in March, as well as for the second shut downs in July.
A Google search lists nearly 30 tattoo shops in the City of Fresno, with some still being listed as temporarily closed. Tattoo shops were most recently allowed to reopen when the county went into the red tier of the Gov. Newsom’s reopening plan.
According to a report from industry research provider IBISWorld’s “Tattoo Artists Industry in the US- Market Research Report,” revenue growth for the tattoo industry is expected to decline 9.5% in 2020 because of the temporary closures.
During the second reopening, local tattoo shops are seeing an influx of customers waiting to get under the needle.
Paul Calvo, owner of True Anchor Tattooing in Downtown Fresno, which has been open for four years, said he has seen the popularity of tattoos rise since he has been in business, with a variety of demographics in his clientele.
Beginning in January, Calvo said business was good. He even saw an increase when Covid hit in March.
“Now that we have opened up again, we’ve seen business skyrocket,” Calvo said. “Its crazy how much busier we are now than we were pre-pandemic.”
With so much conflicting news about Covid-19 during the initial stages of the pandemic, Calvo said that his main concern was keeping his family and employees safe.
There are three artists working in the shop besides Calvo, as well as someone who does piercings.
Calvo said some artists frown upon tattoo work being done outside of a licensed shop, but during a pandemic “everything goes out the window,” and some artists were doing what they had to do to make some income.
Along with the influx of clients trying to get a tattoo after the second reopening, True Anchor was still fulfilling the appointments that were set during the shutdown.
Calvo said there are still a lot of people trying to do walk in appointments as well, so the shop tries to clear all of their set appointments during the early part of the day. They are open the rest of the day for walk-ins.
Even before the pandemic, standards for sanitizing in the tattoo industry were already high, so Calvo felt that his industry was already in compliance with many of the standards being placed on other industries after the pandemic started.
“We were implementing [cleanliness] rules pre-pandemic,” Calvo said. “It’s asinine to me, with all our protocols, to say that we have to shutdown but others don’t. Also, my landlord still wants their money for rent. Luckily I have a part-time job on the side, and I used that money to pay for the rent.”
Greg Sumii, artist and owner at Liquid Fetish, said he recently had to close one of his three shops in Fresno because of the pandemic.
The first Liquid Fetish in Downtown Fresno opened in 2012. A few years later he opened up a second location, Liquid Fetish North, and a third location in the Tower District, Liquid Fetish Tower.
Sumii spent seven years in a federal correction facility, which is where he first started to learn the art of tattoos. However, Sumii said that he had to unlearn the techniques he picked up when incarcerated and learn to give professional quality tattoos.
The Tower District location was the shop that Sumii decided to close because of the pandemic fallout. He went from having around 13 artists working in between the shops to nine.
“No matter how many businesses I have, no matter how well they’re doing, I’m in the tattoo business, and every single dollar of my income is generated through myself or my artists doing tattoos,” Sumii said. “There is no other profit making of those shops. From one day to the next, I went from a good income to zero,”
Sumii did apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, but since all his artists are classified as independent contractors, the tattoo shops did not qualify.
With the landlord at the Tower location not being flexible with the rent, and the artists in that shop not wanting to return to work, customers weary of the virus and a shot economy, Sumii felt it would be more feasible to close the third shop and focus on the first two shops.
After the first reopening, Sumii said the shops saw an influx of people trying to get tattoos, noting that it was a lot of young people who he suspects were seeing money come in from unemployment and who have been stuck at home during the pandemic.
Sumii said the downtown Liquid Fetish shop has an appointment only structure and is booked out a year in advance.
The Liquid Fetish North location remained open after the second shutdowns to publicly defy them. He notified Fresno County, which regulates the industry, with his intent and safety plan. He said county health officials told him they wouldn’t police him unless they received a complaint.
It was more economical to make a stand and remain open than to close down, especially after already having to close one shop, Sumii said.
“We lasted all the way to this last reopening. The momentum has been continual at our shop,” Sumii said. “When they reopened it was like another day for us.”