Red Bank Rethinks Ban on Tattoo Studios

October 5, 2018
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By Chris Rotolo |

RED BANK – With a major annual convention in nearby Asbury Park and Bayshore-area shops in abundance, tattoo artistry has gone mainstream.
In Red Bank, tattoo shops have been prohibited in the central business district. But now elected borough officials want to re-ink the rules.
At a Sept. 12 meeting, the governing body introduced an ordinance amending Red Bank’s Land Development Regulations, effectively deleting the prohibition of tattoo parlors in all primary commercial zones.
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said he is confident the ordinance will be adopted upon second reading at the public hearing Oct. 13, which would allow artists to set up shop in the borough’s Neighborhood Business District (NB), Central Commercial Districts 1 and 2, and Business Residential Districts 1 and 2.
“The only reason that prevents these artists in town right now is because of some accumulated antagonism over the years to when only sailors got tattoos, or people involved with some sort of illegal trade,” Menna said in an interview with The Two River Times.
“That’s no longer the case. You don’t have to be a member of the military or Navy to have a tattoo these days. It’s now an accepted artistic expression. As long as it’s done safely, with safeguards in place, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be allowed here.”
Menna said governments should have more faith that their constituents know what’s good for themselves and that the market will work itself out.
“In this situation we’re dealing with stereotypes that have plagued the way we look at commerce for so long,” Menna said. “My point is, why don’t we let the market decide what works in a particular area and what doesn’t work.”
“A liquor store would not be able to make it in a downtown setting anymore. That’s not just Red Bank, it’s anywhere. The market has dictated that. But a tattoo artist providing his or her craft, in a safe and convenient setting; that’s proven to work. But the market will dictate.”
It is not unusual for municipalities to have bans against tattoo shops. Last year at this time, Shrewsbury Borough passed legislation banning them, along with vape shops and gun stores.
Tommy Wood owns and operates White Wolf Tattoo with his wife Danielle in a Hazlet strip mall. Three years ago when he launched his own Route 35 establishment, Red Bank would have been an alluring location, he said.
“It would be really hard for me to make that move right now because we’re established, even though at one point I really did want to,” Wood said.
For an upstart artist looking to lay their roots, Red Bank could be a great option, but the situation would have to be right for both the business owner and the town.
“I hope Red Bank shows that they’re committed to having these types of artists in town. It will go a long way if the government leaders and business leaders show that they’re willing embrace and support tattoo shops,” Wood said.
“And I hope they get the right shop down there, too. Someone who is going to do it right and not hurt the reputation of the (tattoo artist) community. I wish it could be me, because we are reputable. But hopefully whoever goes in there doesn’t ruin the opportunity,” he added.
Jim Scavone is the executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, an organization founded in 1991 to manage the borough’s business district. He said experiential retail establishments – like DIY enterprises, breweries, art spaces and tattoo parlors – are the future of the municipality.
“I think moving forward, in addition to their retail offerings, places that can offer an experience that you can only find in that particular establishment are going to be more successful,” Scavone said.
The issues that could serve as deterrents to tattoo shops are the same for any new business moving to town: rent costs and lack of parking.
The borough recently formed a private-public partnership with Red Bank RiverCenter to conduct the town’s first parking study in 26 years, which will aim to alleviate the lack of long-term customer and employee parking spaces.
As for rent, Wood said it’s the biggest overhead a shop owner has to contend with, which means tattoo artists could be hesitant to make the move.
“At the end of the day, most of these people are starving artists,” Wood said. “Unless you’re the shop owner and have five people working under you, you’re living just like everyone else is. Because some days, if the weather turns, you won’t tattoo a damn thing. It’s a gamble being an artist, whether you’re a painter or a tattoo artist. But it’s a labor of love.”

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This article was first published in the Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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