Local Business

Kaplan: Tattoo studios should be allowed in business districts

Before I get into the meat of this discussion, full disclosure is required. I don’t have a tattoo. Neither does my wife or any of my kids for that matter. I am writing this as a commercial real estate broker who has noticed some trends in this country about tattoo shops that are interesting. It can’t just be me who sees these trends.

In the past 10 years or so, tattoo establishments have sprung up in business zones all around McHenry County, as government officials have let go of their old attitudes, and sporting tattoos has become mainstream. According to a Harris Interactive Poll, one in five Americans now have at least one tattoo. In 2008, the number was one in seven. The single fastest demographic group seeking tattoo service is middle class suburban women: your sister, your mother and even your grandmother.

In Illinois, tattoo businesses are regulated by the state. The same as cosmetologists, tattoo artists require licenses to operate legally. Shops are clean and sterile. Estimates grant the existence of 20,000 shops in the U.S. that bring in more than $2 billion in annual revenue. Popular TV shows such as Ink Masters, LA Ink and Best Ink all help to bring this ancient art form into our mainstream culture.

The following nearby towns allow tattoo studios in their business zones either as permitted uses or as conditional uses:

• Woodstock (permitted in B-2, B2C and B-3 districts)

• Crystal Lake (permitted in B-2 with special use permit)

• McHenry (not actually permitted, but has allowed two with use variances)

• Fox River Grove (permitted as special use in B-1 district)

• Lakemoor (permitted under Tanning and Beauty in all commercial districts)

• Marengo (permitted in B-2 district)

• Hebron (permitted in B-2 district)

• Carpentersville (permitted in C-2 district)

There are several towns in the area who are not sold on the idea of allowing tattoo shops in their business districts. Some allow them in their industrial districts, but not too many service businesses such as this want to be buried in an industrial park. They usually want some measure of exposure. In thinking through the process of changing the perception of those reticent communities, one has to think of the incremental economic benefits to the health of those communities. Tattoo shops provide local jobs, they pay rent to landlords by filling up vacant storefronts and make it convenient for residents who want this type of service.

There also is some potential sales tax revenue to be had as some tattoo shops do piercing and the jewelry they sell generates sales tax revenue. By allowing a tattoo studio to locate in our business zones, where they can be visible to the public, we are fostering a situation where our residents no longer have to spend their money in some other town when they want this type of service.

Those who still harbor negative attitudes about tattoo businesses just aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in the world around them.

“Local governments all over the U.S. are being forced to alter their attitudes and laws in response to the changing cultural status and popularity of tattooing,” according to “Changing Cultural Status of Tattoo Art: A Report by Hoag Levins.”

Villages can make what are called text amendments to their zoning codes to permit tattoo establishments very easily. Usually not more than two meetings. Some towns are already ahead of the curve. I still have no plans to get a tattoo.

But if I changed my mind, I would prefer to keep the business local and spend my dollars in my own community.

• Bruce Kaplan is a senior broker associate with Premier Commercial Realty in Lake in the Hills. Reach him at brucek@profit-success.net or www.profit-success.net.

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