By KAITLIN LEMBO
& JACKIE GOLD
For many, the hum of a tattoo machine or the selection of jewelry for a new piercing is one of the most therapeutic activities in the world.
According to a poll done by Dalia Research in 2018, 46 percent of people in the nation have at least one tattoo, with 75 percent of those sporting more than one. Studios were forced to shutter doors after the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the state. In Albany, shops were closed for 90 days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced guidelines for re-opening.
Eugene Hernigle, a piercer at Tom Spaulding Tattoo And Body Piercing Studio, has had a unique experience with the pandemic. He spoke about the silver lining because his son was born at the start of the pandemic. “I got to spend three months at home with my newborn and my wife,” he said, “And on top of that, I was making more money being unemployed.”
Since reopening, however, Hernigle has become much more nervous about bringing home the virus to his family. “It’s really difficult to take precautionary measures when the precautions are changed every day,” he said.
Tom Spaulding’s studio is asking everyone who enters to wear a mask and only allowing one customer in at a time. Hernigle said, “I am taking all the precautions I can, and we’re asking our customers to please be respectful and do the same.”
But even so, Hernigle says now is not the best time to get a piercing.
For face piercings, he says that not many people will see most face piercings because of masks. For ear piercings, he has seen many customers struggle with putting masks on and the strings of the mask rubbing against the fresh piercing. Because of this, many piercings are also taking longer to heal.
Still, Hernigle is “terribly scared” of bringing the virus home to his newborn son. He asks people to use common sense if they choose to get a piercing and be polite to employees. “We take our customer’s safety in the highest regard and hope they will do the same for us.”
Reputable tattoo studios are also considered some of the most sterile places in the world on a good day. With COVID-19 flaring up again in Albany, Lark Street Tattoo, a widely regarded studio right in the heart of the Capital District, is taking its new protocols seriously. Owner Tom “T-Bone” Martin, a tattoo artist since 1993, said his studio is seeing a huge flux in business since reopening in mid-June.
“Tattooing is one the very few activities left to do out there,” Martin said. “We used to fit into the night out, but now we are a destination.”
Lark Street Tattoo hasn’t had any coronavirus scares so far, and it’s easy to see how it’s pulled it off. Customers and artists must wear masks at all times in the shop. Customers must wash their hands or use hand sanitizer provided by the shop immediately upon entrance. Temperatures are taken before each appointment. No food is allowed under any circumstances and only the person getting tattooed is allowed to show up for their appointment. To add an extra layer of security, customers must call from their cars upon arrival and wait to enter the shop.
Martin said the masks will probably stay after the pandemic is over, as many shops already use them during tattooing.
“We haven’t had any problems with people refusing to wear masks, but we have had to tutor some in how to effectively wear them,” he said. “The biggest issues are those who wear them under the nose or move them down when they talk.”
Martin added masking will also help with the cold and flu season, as artists are known to catch colds from customers. He’s positive there is no COVID-19 transmission in the shop. People feel so safe, Lark Street Tattoo is booked a month in advance and Martin is on the hunt for another experienced artist. Despite being able to accommodate some walk-in appointments, Martin asks customers to make an appointment and follow all shop rules.
“A professional, licensed tattoo studio is probably the safest environment you can spend any time in these days,” he concluded.