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Ohio tattoo artists want clearer guidance as state looks to reopen businesses

Posted at 10:47 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 23:55:49-04

CINCINNATI — Greater Cincinnati tattoo artists say they’re frustrated and left wondering about when and how their shops will be able to reopen.

Salons and barbershops were given the green light in Ohio to reopen May 15. On Friday, Kentucky gave the go-ahead to barbers, hairdressers, and tattoo artists specifically to get back to work starting May 25.

But Ohio's tattooists are unclear on what comes next, even though their industry often operates in close quarters with their customers.

What’s more, many tattoo artists are 1099 employees who have had a hard time collecting unemployment. Now, Ohio artists want to come to the table to ink a deal with the governor for a plan to get back to work as soon as possible.

Artists Austin Fields and Jamison Walker say they sat and watched as other service industries got the go-ahead to reopen.

“It’s been kind of rough just not knowing,” Fields said. “It doesn’t really feel like there’s an end in sight.”

Walker agrees that months-long closures have left them on unsteady ground.

“For others, they have that day they can go back to work, but we don’t,” he said. “Just like any other person, we want to provide for our families, and we can’t right now.”

They feel that part of the problem is getting a seat at the table -- other industries like salons and restaurants have worker advocate groups to help create standards for their industries, something that hasn’t happened so far for tattoo parlors.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to even speak about that or try to form some kind of board or anything like that at all, so I feel like we haven’t been given a fair chance,” Fields said.

Despite working in close proximity to their clients, they say tattoo shop standards already make them more capable of fending off COVID-19 than the average business.

“We can’t work, and we’re skilled in cross-contamination prevention,” Walker said.

And they’ve got ideas for how to return, like tattoos by appointment only.

“There’s going to be no family members or friends that want to come hang out with them while they get tattooed. We’ll all be wearing masks. We’ll also provide masks for all of the clients that come in in case they don’t have their own,” Fields said.

For now, they’re stuck in a waiting game, holding out for answers like so many others across Ohio with skin in the game.

“I just want something,” Walker said. “I want to know a plan. I want to put together a plan with someone so that we can get our business running.”

TIMELINE: Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana reopening plans