By Sue Botos
The idea of a tattoo parlor in the city has gotten under the skin of Rocky River residents.
Several homeowners addressed the city planning commission at its last meeting, over the request made by tattooist Harry Lawrence to open up shop at 20130 Center Ridge Road in a building shared by J and C Chinese Restaurant.
“In the last 15 to 20 years, tattooing has become more accepted and crosses all social lines,” said Lawrence, assuring the commission that his shop would not draw an unsavory clientele. He added that in his 30 years of business, he has never been cited for health or legal violations.
Lawrence told the commission that he wants to move the business, which he plans to call American Sideshow, to Rocky River from Sheffield Lake due to the poor economy in Lorain County. Answering questions from the commission, Lawrence said the business would include body piercing, and tentatively would be open until 9 p.m. and later on weekends.
Jerry Gifford, of Lakeview Road, said that he could see the building from his home, and disagreed with Lawrence about the type of customers who would frequent the shop.
“The community does not need this. Do we not set certain standards in this community? What’s next? A pay day loan store?” he asked.
Jerry Monroe, of Stratford Avenue, admitted the he has an “attitude problem” when it came to tattoos, but expressed concern over the future of Center Ridge Road, which is lined with buildings for lease and includes mostly empty Rockport Shopping Center.
“Center Ridge is on the edge, everyone knows that. To grant this would send a signal to the world that (we) have given up. There are worse things than empty idle property,” said Monroe, agreeing with Gifford that pay day loan shops would soon follow.
As for Lawrence’s contention that his work is art seen as beauty in many cultures, another Lakeview Road resident responded, “If it were a beauty salon going in there, we wouldn’t be here,” adding that just because the business is legal, there is no guarantee that the proposed shop would not draw questionable clientele. “Pole dancing is legal, but I wouldn’t want that at the end of my street, either.”
To emphasize the cleanliness of his shop, Lawrence said that his autoclave, which is used to sterilize equipment, must be tested weekly. He remarked that his wife is a nurse, and that the hospital where she works tests its sterilization equipment monthly.
While he said he respected residents’ right to voice their opinion, he contended that it was “a bit offensive that I would be viewed that way.” While he said he understood the stigma attached to body art, he stated that his work was legitimate.
Katherine Tillman, of Fairview Park, who supported Lawrence, remarked, “There are more people than you know out there with tattoos. The streets won’t look like a brothel.”
Commission member Charles Gustafson remarked that, aside from aesthetics, the aging population in the city would not make it the best spot for a tattoo parlor.
“It’s a legitimate business; healthwise it has been approved. Just because I wouldn’t get one (a tattoo) does not make it wrong,” he stated.
The commission voted to table the request pending another public hearing. Chairman Michael Harvey asked law director Andy Bemer to research the question of whether turning Lawrence down could be construed as limiting freedom of expression. Earlier in the discussion, Bemer stated that some cities, such as Lakewood, have made it difficult for tattoo shops to open by requiring the presence of a medical doctor during hours of operation.