Zoning Alteration Allows First New Tattoo Shop To Open Downtown • Long Beach Post

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Above and below, work from Mikey Vigilante’s portfolio.


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Last night the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for the first tattoo shop to open Downtown Long Beach in more than half a century.

And so by the first of the year, the modest glass door on the bottom floor of the historic Lafayette Building will become the entrance for Paper Crane Studio and the home base of Michael Marsh, a local tattoo artist who works under the name Mikey Vigilante.

After working at renown shops such as L.A.’s Zulu Tattoo and Long Beach’s own Outer Limits, Marsh decided to break out on his own and spent most of this year navigating the city’s strict tattoo codes to see if and where he could put his own shop. He thought that he might have to petition for a zoning or ordinance change, but by chance discovered that the City already had.

“I was sniffing on the door trying to make this happen,” Marsh told the Post before the Planning Commission’s meeting, “but I really had to dig to realize I could actually open in Downtown area. No one knew whether or not it could be done until Steve Gerhardt [the Planning Commission’s Senior Planner] opened his books and showed me.”

The change Gerhardt showed Marsh was seemingly minor, but its implications for Marsh’s shop dreams were huge. As a part of the adoption of the Downtown Plan in January 2012, the City Council approved a new set of allowed uses for the area, including uses allowed through approval of a CUP. There are many business types that operate in the city under CUPs, one of them being tattoo parlors.

Though tattoo parlors were once ubiquitous in the city—particularly at The Pike and Nu Pike, where a dense collection of shops catered to the Navy seamen and bred some of the most well-respected artists in the craft—the negative image of sailors, bikers and gang members eventually took its toll on policy.

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Laws were tightened in the 1980s and until the recent changes to the Downtown plan were made, businesses wishing to engage in “the act of inserting pigment under the skin” were only allowed to open in California Highway (CHW) zones, which in Long Beach only includes Pacific Coast Highway and a small stretch of Anaheim St.

In the last ten years, only three new tattoo shops have opened in Long Beach, two on PCH and one on Anaheim St., bringing the grand total of shops in a city of half-million people to just five. The only one currently operating outside of the CHW zone is Outer Limits, which is the oldest continually operating tattoo shop in the country and the last remaining piece of the historic Pike amusement park (its license to operate was grandfathered in).

But public perception of tattooing has changed a lot since the rough-and-tumble days of the Pike’s demise. The mainstream has embraced tattooing as an art form and it is only appropriate that the city has loosened its perspective as well.

The staff report on Marsh’s CUP application, for example, says that “tattoo parlors are considered to be establishments in which artistic expression takes place” and that his tattoo parlor would be a “compatible use within the east Village Arts District community.” It also noted that “one of the significant characteristics common in tattoo parlors is the display of general forms of art, similar to what is featured in art studios and galleries.” This is a far cry from the current municipal code wording, which lumps tattoo parlors in with fortune-telling businesses and prohibits both from being within 1000 feet of a bar.

Marsh’s studio will be changing perceptions of these types of shops as well. Instead of the loud, bustling open-floor shops seen in most tattoo-based reality shows, Paper Crane Studio will be an intimate space, designed to maximize client comfortability and keep out the lobby-hangers.

“I specializes in large, custom pieces,” says Marsh, “and I need a quiet space for that kind of artwork. I think that I’ve learned that when I give clients the most of my time without any outside stress, the artwork is better and the client is happier. A sense of privacy is something that I’m definitely pushing.”

Paper Crane Tattoo will be located at 530 E. Broadway. Check out Mikey Vigilante’s online portfolio at PaperCraneTatoo.com.

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