Scott Dethorne and the team at Craftsman Tattoo are used to making the most quirky, and oftentimes ridiculous, ideas come to life and look pretty.
That’s why tatting the image of a plague doctor or even a COVID-themed nesting doll on a customer is just part of a regular days’ work.
“A lot of people call it their therapy,” said Dethorne, owner of the five-year-old Schenectady studio. “If they’re having a rough week and somehow that pain makes them feel better, then more power to them. The reasoning for getting tattoos isn’t any different now than it was before this stuff hit the fan.”
During the last seven months, tattoo studios have added several additional safety measures in an industry already equipped with gloves, disinfectant and the occasional mask. Since reopening in July, studios have been following social distancing guidelines, placing additional barriers around tattoo stations, requiring masks, regulating guests and have oftentimes had to jump through hoops to secure the correct safety supplies.
Regardless of the changes, Dethorne and other studio owners are saying that business has actually been quite strong in recent months. And they’re hoping the surge lasts just as permanently as their ink.
“During the actual shutdown, we weren’t doing much outside of drawing and painting. But the minute we could tattoo, we were booked,” Dethorne said. “Way out to the point where we needed someone to help with the volume. We’ve always been pretty busy for the most part, but this year has just been wild.”
And even as Craftsman brought on extra hands to help with bookings, which bring in $150 per hour, the location’s four in-house artists are still seeing a packed schedule. They’re applying a solid mix of tattoos on customers: small pieces, larger multi-appointment works and the occasional last-second tat.
The reasons for the rise in bookings, which is around a 50 percent increase, Dethorne suspects, are that customers have more time on their hands and even more money to spend.
“People who like to get tattoos always have the idea of the tattoo in the back of their head, but they never have the cash to match the tattoo,” Dethorne said. “Nowadays, people aren’t partying on the weekends, they aren’t going out as much. There’s no place to have dinner late at night. We’re catching the bars’ money right now.”
As regular customers continue to pay visits, Dethorne is spotting more first-timers coming in for ink, and sometimes coming back for larger sleeves.
Chad Foster, owner of I&I Tattoo in Schenectady, saw a similar rise in bookings for the studio’s six in-house artists since things have reopened.
“When we were finally able to reopen, there was an onslaught. It was instantaneous,” Foster said. “We generally have a super long waitlist. We had people backed up for months. So it’s been pretty busy and steady. Plus, now we’re coming into a tax season where it’s always busy for us anyways.”
Adjusting to different safety measures hasn’t been much of a hassle either, the owners say, as many regulations the state asked them to follow are already standard practice for tattoo shops, including extra sanitizing, wearing gloves and, in some cases, wearing masks.
“When this all started, when the lockdown got lifted, the state gave us a roughly 14-page list of things that they wanted us to do in order to be safe,” said Joseph Wood, owner of Parasol Tattoo Co. in Saratoga Springs. “I can honestly say the majority of it was stuff that we already did. The mask, obviously, was a little bit different. Clients have been great with that as well. No one’s really complained or had any issues. I think they’re just happy that they’re able to come in and be like ‘a tattoo to go.’”
Even with business running relatively smoothly at local studios, there still have been some roadblocks, including access to certain safety supplies.
“The only thing that pandemic did mess up was the price of supplies that we work with, like paper towels and gloves,” Foster said. “I doubled everything in price. From it being $9.99 for a box of gloves to, at one point, $24 a box.”
Bridget Punsalang, owner of Bittersweet Blackbird in Clifton Park, said suppliers are usually out of stock when she’s looking for hospital-grade disinfectant.
“I end up having to find it through Amazon and then order some in bulk, or just through various medical suppliers,” Punsalang said. “But even then, it’s like I’m searching for a while before I can find it. And it’s a lot more expensive than it used to be.”
Still, these studios are finding ways to get through and, in some cases, they’re seeing a real strong turnout each day of walk-ins and bookings. And for good reason.
“People just want to do something that makes them feel good,” Punsalang said. “I won’t say it’s a recession-proof industry, but it has definitely survived them before. And I won’t say that it won’t affect it. But people want to do something that makes them feel good.”
Wood shared a similar sentiment, noting that even his most cautious clients — who work from home and have limited their exposure to other people in recent months — see the tattoo studio as their get-away.
“They really don’t leave the house very often, especially the ones that are allowed to work from home,” Wood said. “So for some of them, this has just been an excuse, something that was important enough for them to want to leave the house, talk to someone and just get tattooed.”