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Baltimore County puts tattoo studios in the same category as massage parlors and strip clubs when it comes to zoning regulations. They are allowed in industrial areas but nowhere else.
But Councilman David Marks said he thinks times have changed and that tattoos have gone mainstream, and he plans to introduce a bill that would allow tattoo studios in downtown Towson.
Marks has been in talks with tattoo artist Deirdre Aikin and her husband, Grant Aikin, who would like to open a tattoo business downtown. She currently works in the Rockville – DC area. Grant Aikin is a Readiness Officer for the Maryland National Guard in Towson; he’s about to retire after 20 years of service.
“The law was written like I’m in the sex industry and I find that very degrading,” said Deirdre Aikin, who has a Master of Fine Art degree from MICA and has been a tattoo artist for about 20 years. “We have a normal family and we have nothing to do with massage parlors or the sex industry. There is no correlation.”
The Aikins say they would like to have an art gallery in the front of the business with the tattoo services in the back. They say they want to team up with art students from Towson University and Goucher College for art shows. One of the locations they’re considering is the second floor of the Wells Fargo building next to Nacho Mama’s.
“This would give kids the opportunity to professionally show their work and to have something to put on their CVs,” Deirdre said. “It’s a huge problem in the fine-arts community — not knowing how to sell yourself or how to produce a show for a gallery.”
An early draft of Marks’ legislation says that in order to be located in downtown Towson, a tattoo studio must be no larger than 3,000 square feet; it must be located on the second floor or higher (not street level); its sign may not mention tattoos or be neon; it may not be within 500 feet of a single-family home; and must operate “in combination with an art gallery.” There is no formal description, however, of what constitutes an art gallery in Baltimore County.
The executive committee of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations (GTCCA) has discussed the proposed legislation and has some concerns. They say they are worried because the draft of the legislation does not mention operating hours, and they fear that if a tattoo studio were open late, intoxicated college students might stumble in for tattoos — and regret it later. They also worry that a business could apply for a variance to get a neon sign.
“We need more information on it otherwise we’re not going to support something that has no details,” said Mike Ertel, vice president of the GTCCA. “There are risks to something like this and it can easily become a spectacle. But I do feel like an old man or a prude being against something like this.”
The legislation would allow not only the Aikins’ shop, but any other tattoo parlor that meets the bill’s guidelines. Neither the county nor the state license tattoo studios.
Marks said in an interview that he would consider adding language to the legislation that would limit studios’ hours of operation in downtown Towson. And Aikin said she doesn’t want to stay open late and would be happy to close up shop by 9:00 or 10:00 at night. She also said no reputable tattoo artist would work on a customer who was intoxicated or impaired by drugs.
“I don’t want drunks in my shop. I think any business feels that way, unless they’re a bar,” she said. “I would absolutely be OK with [restrictions on hours]. That’s absolutely reasonable.”
She added: “I would leave it up to the community, but I’m OK with all those restrictions [hours, neon, etc]. I’m trying to keep the industry on a professional level.”
Marks asked people to weigh in on his Facebook page yesterday on whether they would support such a change. Most of the 20 or so respondents said they were in favor of it, but some added that they don’t want to see neon signs because they are viewed as tacky.
Although tattoo studios are banned outside of industrial areas — unless they were grandfathered in because they existed before the law went into effect — downtown Towson is home to smoke shops, and water pipes and other paraphernalia are displayed prominently in store windows.
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had not yet discussed Marks’ legislation so they do not have a position yet. The Aikins are being represented in their quest for a tattoo shop by attorney Jason Vettori, who is the current president of the pro-business group Greater Towson Committee.
Councilman Tom Quirk plans to introduce a similar bill on Monday that would allow a tattoo studio in Arbutus. Marks said he will introduce his bill this Monday or in another two weeks. The legislation would be discussed at a work session the week after it’s introduced.
“Most people aren’t as scared of these establishments as they might have been 20 years ago,” Marks said. “They just want them to look attractive.”
The Towson Flyer