June 2, 2023

For the third time in just over a year, Tristan and Kim Everett have been forced to close up shop.

The husband-and-wife pair run Iron Horse Tattoo in Waterloo and are just two of many tattoo artists in the region affected by the Ontario government’s shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the province announced a four-week lockdown earlier this month – later extended to a full stay-at-home order – the Everetts once again had to stop working.

The closures have led to frustration within the body art industry, as some see them as unfair considering the health protocols and training already in place for tattoo studios, as opposed to other fields.

“We’re the ones that are actually required to pass a pretty in-depth health inspection on preventing the transmission of blood-borne pathogens and infectious diseases and things like that,” Tristan Everett said. “We’re the people with all the training and we know all about contamination, cross-contamination, preventing contamination and then I see clothing stores open and these people know nothing, they’re not health-inspected.”

He added that he’s required to screen customers and only sees a single client per day, contrasting it with the lack of screening at grocery and big-box stores.

The frustration is amplified by how few outbreaks have been associated with tattoo studios or other personal care services such as hair salons or barbershops, as opposed to manufacturing plants or schools.

According to the Ontario Body Art Alliance, a tattoo industry advocacy group, the organization’s 61 members had over 14,000 appointments during the course of the pandemic without a single case of transmission. In Toronto, less than one per cent of all workplace outbreaks stemmed from the personal care industry, according to statistics released by Toronto Public Health earlier this year.

“It seems that when they’re making these rules and regulations that are pertaining to these individuals, it seems like there’s no data to support the decisions,” Kim Everett said. “How do you respect the rules that are being implemented and given to you when they have no basis, they have no facts to how these decisions being made.”

The two said they’re aware tattoo studios aren’t considered essential service, but it’s hard not take issue when they’ve been forced to shut down, while retail services stay open.

In addition to their personal frustrations, the cycle of closures has also taken a financial toll on the couple.  According to the Everetts, they’ve had over $40,000 worth or work cancelled during the pandemic. While they’ve been able to receive some relief in the form of business grants, Kim Everett said it doesn’t cover everything.

“We’ve taken advantage of all of the services that are provided to us and it has alleviated some stresses,” she said. “However, there’s still financial requirements on our end and those grants, if you will, don’t necessarily provide us with a full coverage of our personal and business financial bills.”

Like the Everetts, Laura Dawson also has had to cope with the financial and emotional stresses of the pandemic. The owner of Thrive Studios, a tattoo shop in Cambridge, she’s seen the impact the closures have had on not only her, but her staff as well.

“Including myself, there’s nine families that eat from this business,” she said. “With it being closed and very limited support for all of us, it’s hard to not think about the well-being of everybody here.”

Dawson added that’s there’s a feeling of anxiety, as if there’s “a thick, heavy cloud” hanging over when the shop is closed. She said she’s confident the store will be okay when business starts back up, but the constant worry of another shutdown does weigh on her mind.

In a photo taken before the pandemic, Kyle Murphy from Thrive Studios in Cambridge tattoos a client. (Supplied by Laura Dawson)

“You start hoarding supplies, you start hoarding money. You start being really conservative with things but then are also trying to put as much back into your business and support your staff,” she said. “It’s almost like this merry-go-round that’s completely exhausting.”

For Kim Everett, that exhaustion extends to her clients as well. She said tattoos aren’t just “ink to skin”, citing the stories and backgrounds for them and adding that they can be a source of mental support for people during tough times.

“This is how we are able to do that for others, and it’s really sad we can’t provide that service for people.”

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