Mall tattoo studio finds acceptance

Grace Patuwo/Post-Gazette

Getting a little ink etched into the dermis layer of the skin has become so mainstream that Pittsburghers can now get a tattoo at one of the most homogenized of American venues: the mall.

Two months ago, Get Inked … In the Flesh, a 1,500-square-foot tattoo and body piercing studio, opened its doors a few steps from Macy’s in the Mall at Robinson. And as co-owner Stephanie Vegoda expected, business has been brisk.

Many of its customers, evenly split between men and women, are Gen Y-ers who shop at Get Inked, the tattoo-related apparel store Ms. Vegoda opened last year on the mall’s lower level and recently relocated upstairs. But the studio also is finding an audience among aging baby boomers and 40-something professionals. Just the other day, Ms. Vegoda reports with a smile, they got a call from a woman who wanted to buy her mother her first tattoo. For her 70th birthday.

In other words, the studio draws the same clientele as most other stores at the mall.

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Get Inked … In the Flesh (store 60) is on the upper level of the Mall at Robinson. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Information: 412-787-2800.

“Tattoos have gone from something you cover up to something you expect,” says Ms. Vegoda, 32. “So the time is right for the concept. It’s a lifestyle.”

This isn’t the first tattoo studio in a suburban shopping center: Tattoo Nation paved the way in 2006 when it opened a studio near Bloomingdales in the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, N.J. (it has since opened a second store in a mall in Queens, N.Y.).

There are also a pair of tattoo and piercing studios in malls in Florida, with two more in the works. But it’s a relatively new concept for Western Pennsylvania. So new, in fact, that when Ms. Vegoda approached mall management, they didn’t exactly jump up and down with excitement.

“We were hesitant,” admits Beth Edwards, manager of the 150-store Robinson complex.

Needless worry, says lead needle artist Mike Anderson, who brought 20-plus years of experience when he relocated from West Virginia to Sewickley with his wife, Gina, a piercing artist. Since opening on May 7, the business has received nothing but praise from shoppers and other tenants, he says.

“We think it’s turned out great,” Ms. Edwards agrees. “It’s a good addition to the mall.”

Much of that can be attributed to the studio’s design. (Call it a parlor and you’ll quickly be corrected.) Ms. Vegoda and business partner Chuck Hornsby of New York clearly did their homework. With brightly colored faux-finished walls (she did the work herself), glossy wood floors and tasteful lighting, it’s more Miami Beach than Miami Ink, a Vespa instead of a Harley.

Hard-core tattoo fans may be put off by its mall-ness, and indeed, some competitors have dismissed the studio as too corporate. But they’re missing the point. A lot of people are intimidated by a traditional tattoo parlor, says Ms. Vegoda.

“We’re not trying to compete,” she says. “We’re trying to open up a new community to the art of tattoos in a place they feel comfortable. We offer good, clean work in a safe environment.”

Besides, she adds, anything that helps legitimize tattoos is good for the industry.

You have to be at least 18 years old to get inked, and there’s a minimum charge of $50, though prices can quickly climb depending on the intricacy of the design, size and use of color. A pair of screens offer privacy for the rare customer who doesn’t want to be on display, or is getting a tattoo on a body part no one but a significant other should see.

Recognizing that many first-timers don’t know what they want — 90 percent of its customers are walk-ins — Get Inked encourages them to page through large books of tattoo flash, or illustrations, at the front of the store. But it’s always best, says Mr. Anderson, to work with the artist to create a custom tattoo that has special meaning. (Word to the wise: “Tramp stamps” on the lower back are out; tatts on the side, rib cage and arms are in. )

Speaking of which, Ms. Vegoda has yet to get a tattoo of her own. She says there’s nothing she can think of that she’d want “for the rest of my life.” But body art is clearly in her blood. Six years ago, the Brownsville native started a company that provides face art, henna and airbrush tattoos for amusement parks across the country. Although her clothing store opened first, it was really just a clever way of getting the public used to an idea she’s had for a long time.

“We’re trying to change the mind of the public that a tattoo is a beautiful piece of artwork,” Ms. Vegoda says, “not something that you should try to hide or be ashamed of.”

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