The Student News Site of Ithaca College

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

COVID-19 lockdown leaves its mark on local tattoo parlors

On the corner of Green St. in Ithaca, N.Y., a beige storefront sits empty. The front window, which once held a gleaming “Model Citizen Tattoo” logo, now exposes a deserted room. The walls on the inside of the building, formerly lined with illustrations, colorful designs and grungy decor, are blank. 

In March 2021, Model Citizen Tattoo owner James Spiers announced via Facebook that the shop’s location would close for good. While the loss saddened many community members, Spiers said he didn’t really have a choice; he couldn’t afford to keep his lease during the pandemic.

Model Citizen Tattoo, formerly located on Green Street in Ithaca, New York, closed in February as a result of financial burdens presented by COVID-19.

“I tried to keep my shop location, but I was just burning through any savings that I had on the hope that I might be able to open back up again in the spring or the summer,” Spiers said. “Once I saw that wasn’t happening, I contacted my landlords and told them what was going on and that I needed to get out of my lease.” 

Toe Tag Tattoo in Dryden, N.Y. opened a few months before the pandemic hit North America. In March of that year, owner Shawn D. temporarily closed the studio in adherence to federal guidelines. 

Because many tattoo parlors operate as small businesses, shop owners and artists had access to small business loans and unemployment benefits throughout 2020. However, Shawn D. said they did little to relieve the financial burden of owning a shop during a global pandemic.

Toe Tag Tattoo Company, located in Dryden, New York, has been open for a fee months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the East Coast. Owner Shawn D. said that if he hadn’t had a big enough savings account to keep everything floating, he likely would have lost his shop.

“Fortunately I had a big enough savings account to keep everything floating,” he said. “Because if I didn’t, I would’ve lost it.”

Tattoo shops in New York were allowed to reopen July 6, 2020 as a part of the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan. Nearly a year later, local tattoo parlors continue to face financial burdens as a result of capacity limitations and price gouging. 

“Our boxes of gloves went from $8.49 to $18, our madacide went from $32 a gallon to $75,” Shawn D. said. “I know several shops in the area who either have had to close their shop or the shop where they were working closed, mostly because the owners didn’t have the money to pay the bills.”

Phoebe Aceto, owner of Here’s to You Tattoo in Ithaca, opened her shop in August 2020. She said while the pandemic certainly prompted barriers to tattooing, she is doing everything she can to keep customers safe, including only taking on one client per day. 

While doing so has limited her income, she said she appreciates getting to spend more time on each individual tattoo and making sure that her customers feel as safe as possible.

“In general, when you’re getting all this work, it’s super hard to say no,” she said. “So just taking advantage of that slowdown, I think a lot of people really needed that.”

Spiers agreed. As he puts out feelers for a new potential Model Citizen location, he said he is appreciative of the down time because it has helped him reconnect with his passions and pursue a simple lifestyle. 

“At the beginning I was kind of upset, I didn’t know how to handle it,” he said. “Now, I really appreciate it. I’ve gotten back into painting. I’ve been open to playing with designs. It’s nice having that; I’m doing things that I want to do again.” 

Leave a Comment
Donate to Ithaca Week

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ithaca College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Ithaca Week

Comments (0)

All Ithaca Week Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *