At 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday in September, the warm air called people out of their homes and to Bowling Green’s downtown square. Permanent Paint Tattoo and Fine Art Studios, situated in a small building with colored lights and white letters adorning the front window, was bustling with mask-wearing customers. 

Some sat in chairs or were laid out on tables with a limb outstretched. The harsh buzz of the tattoo gun filled the air. Some stood at the front door, talking through tattoo ideas with artists. Another sat in a chair in a room at the back of the shop, taking in deep breaths as a needle pierced their skin. 

The energy in the room was high, and it wouldn’t slow down anytime soon.

Throughout quarantine in late March and early April, many tattoo and piercing shops were forced to close their doors. Artists who make a living off of their craft had to find other ways to support themselves financially during a period without any business or income. Now that shops are reopening, workers in the body art industry are hoping customers will come back to help their businesses recover. 

Louisville senior Rachel Walker works as the piercer at Permanent Paint Tattoo & Fine Art Studio in downtown Bowling Green. Walker said there are many hardships of being in her line of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business in the months since reopening has been no problem for Permanent Paint, said Louisville senior Rachel Walker, the piercer at the shop. 

“It’s been a flood since we reopened,” Walker said. “I mean, people are desperate for change right now and in need of that control when we’re in a completely out of control situation.”

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Tattoo artists at Permanent Paint have experienced the same phenomenon. Manager and artist Addam North said that his appointments “stay booked out for months.” When the shop was given the clearance to reopen, he and other artists were swamped with new appointments. 

“We put the hammer down, and we haven’t stopped,” he said. “It’s been great.”

While some might be concerned about sanitary measures in body art shops right now, both Walker and North asserted there was nothing to worry about. 

“I’m just thankful we already have so much bleach and alcohol around this place,” Walker said, laughing. “I’ve been taking as many precautions as I can. I clean this place every single day.”

North said that new sanitation policies didn’t affect Permanent Paint in the way they might for a different kind of business.

“We’re super sanitary already — nothing’s really changed except maybe cleaning the door a little extra and wiping off other areas and things like that,” North said. “But for the most part, the masks are the biggest change.”

Clients at Permanent Paint feel a similar way. Bowling Green senior Emily Lindsey, a regular at the shop, said the experience of getting piercings during a pandemic wasn’t incredibly different than in the past.

“I wasn’t concerned about my safety or health because everyone wore masks, and every tool is sterilized and clean,” Lindsey said. “It was really not that bad. I went by myself and wore a mask under the presumption I didn’t have COVID-19 because I wasn’t showing any symptoms.”

Walker said the most important part of being a responsible customer at a body art shop right now is exactly that — ensuring that the health of the artists is just as important to the customer as the customer’s health is to them.

Bowling Green native Addam North tattoos Mt. Washington sophomore Andrea Foley, who is accompanied by her friend and fellow Mt. Washington native Chloe Gray. Everyone is required to wear a mask while in the shop and should remain socially distant with the exception of tattoo artists and their clients.

“We just kind of have to go on trust and hope that people aren’t lying to us about being sick or having a fever,” Walker said. “It’s a little bit precarious, but I mean, our clientele is massively honest anyway, so right now, so far, no problems.”

Walker said that the other important aspect of caring for tattoo artists and piercers at this time is actually being a customer. Lindsey said that the pandemic had no chance of stopping her from going to Permanent Paint.

“I have gone to them for all of my piercings since I’ve been in college,” Lindsey said. “I absolutely think it’s important to support body art shops now, as much as in the past. I’m very aware that for months, businesses could barely stay afloat, so I was happy to support them.”

Walker hopes people will continue to keep supporting Permanent Paint and their artists just as fervently.

“This is what I love to do,” Walker said. “It is scary from day to day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way right now. And if I do get sick, it’s like, at least I gave a whole bunch of people awesome piercings.”

North’s advice to anyone interested in getting a tattoo during the pandemic is to schedule it soon. 

“We’re booking up through January as I speak,” he said. “Book now.”

Anyone interested in scheduling an appointment at Permanent Paint can visit the shop’s website or call 270-847-8599.

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