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Reopening Tattoo Shops During COVID-19

illustrated tattoo shop front with illuminated windows and open sign

On April 24, as many Americans prepared to begin their second month under COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, some businesses in the state of Georgia – including tattoo shops – were getting ready to reopen. But while the state has given a large swath of service industries the go-ahead to reopen under strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines, it’s not clear that customers are interested in coming or that workers in those industries feel safe and prepared to go back to work: only one out of over a dozen Georgia tattoo shops interviewed by Inked said they were planning to reopen immediately. 

That statistic illustrates the critical tradeoff that states, employers, and workers across the world will need to weigh in the coming weeks and months: when will the economic toll of businesses staying closed become worse than the public health risk of businesses being open?

The tattoo industry is especially sensitive to many of the variables involved in that equation. On the economic side, most tattoo artists are independent contractors and not employees, meaning they’ve had a more difficult time accessing economic relief and unemployment benefits that could allow them to stay home for longer. On the public health front, however, tattooing is an incredibly intimate process – there’s simply no way to tattoo someone while maintaining social distancing guidelines, potentially endangering artists, clients and their families. Furthermore, many of the sanitation supplies required to safely operate a tattoo parlor – disinfectant wipes, masks and gloves – are already in short supply for frontline healthcare employees and other essential workers. These will be even more critical for tattoo shop safety in a post-COVID world.

All of this leaves tattoo artists, shop owners, and the tattoo industry generally in a difficult position. When will tattoo shops be allowed to reopen? Should we reopen as soon as possible? Will customers and artists feel safe coming into the shop? There are no clear answers, but there are some things you can do to prepare as more states begin discussing how to reopen shuttered segments of their economies.

illustrated icon of a gold magnifying glass in blue circular backgroundFollow All Federal, State, and Local Guidelines

COVID-19 infections have reached every state, but they are not distributed evenly and government responses have been far from uniform. Furthermore, the long-term infection rate across a state or country is a much more important public health measure than the number of infections or deaths reported in a given place on a given day. That means it is absolutely essential to follow the most current COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as your state and local public health agencies. This includes policies for social distancing, personal protection and sanitation, as well as business operations. Understand also that major cities and urban areas will be facing longer, stricter social distancing than less populated areas.

illustrated icon of speech bubbles with flash tattoo anchor and heart dagger designsCommunicate with Coworkers, Employees, and Other Artists

While COVID-19 has forced us to stay distant from each other, it has also forced us to close ranks as citizens and take measures designed to keep us all safe. That attitude of solidarity should continue as states consider easing restrictions on businesses. 

Talk with your colleagues and friends in the business to see how they’re doing and how you can support each other in the short term. Beyond that, it will be important for shop owners to understand how their artists feel about returning to work once it’s legal to do so. Some artists, like those interviewed by Inked, may feel that businesses are reopening too early; others may be in desperate need of income. Additionally, local groups of shops or artists might plan on how to reopen together, sharing resources, knowledge and expectations that could make a difficult process easier for everyone.

illustrated icon of a numbered checklist with scribbled text on a blue backgroundPlan for Post-COVID Business Operations

COVID-19 is going to change how nearly every business operates, and tattoo shops are no exception. Although the business outlook for tattoo artists and shop owners will become clearer in the coming months, you should start putting plans and systems in place for how “normal” operations might look in a post-pandemic world.

Sterilization and Sanitation

It seems fairly clear that costs for PPE will increase, as both artists and customers will likely be required to wear gloves and masks at all times in tattoo shops. Additionally, surface disinfection standards may get more stringent, and you may also want to install new handwashing or hand sanitizer stations. That means more time spent cleaning, and more supplies and equipment to purchase. It also means artists and staff may need to be retrained on updated sanitation guidelines. You should begin factoring these costs and necessities into your plan for reopening.

Customer Relations and Management

As sad as it is, we’ve likely seen the end of walk-in customers and impulse tattoos. Tattoo parlors, at least in the near future, will not be places where artists and customers can hang out, talk shop, and build community. That means we need to think about how to engage, attract, and maintain customer relations in other ways. Many artists have increased their social media presence, which is definitely a good start. Social media is an easy way to keep your community and customers engaged with your shop, and possibly raise some money in the meantime. Even more importantly, however, it provides an accessible way to distribute information and updates about reopening timelines and updated policies, helping you better manage customer expectations.

Scheduling systems will also become more important. Once tattoo shops reopen, it’s likely that no one will be allowed inside without an appointment. That means if you don’t already have a strong scheduling system in place, it’s time to start thinking about one. While shops with a detail-oriented staff (or maybe a dedicated receptionist) can probably get by on paper, some higher-volume shops might turn to digital reservation platforms to more easily manage consultation and tattooing appointments.

Service Restrictions

A final practical consideration to make is whether all tattooing services will be available when you reopen. A neck or chest tattoo, for example, will require the artist and customer to be much closer to each other’s faces than a hand or leg tattoo. In the absence of any government guidance, it would be wise to discuss such questions with your artists beforehand so that you can establish expectations that keep both artists and customers safe and happy.

There will certainly be other surprises, contingencies and problems as the country and the world battle back from COVID-19. In the coming weeks, states and businesses around the country will be looking to Georgia to see how the nation’s earliest experiment with broad business reopenings will go. Hopefully it will go well, and hopefully it will help us find the fastest, safest way to resume something like normal life. In the meantime, keep checking the PainfulPleasures blog for more updates and industry information about COVID-19. And when you’re ready, remember that we carry industry-leading tattooing and medical supplies for tattoo artists at the best prices you can find online.