Tattoo shop trying to break the mold / by Jefferson Geiger

Tattoo artist and co-owner of The Shop Zack Simon, 40, tattoos a key into the arm of Damian Hartzell at The Shop on Dec. 22. The key matches a lock that Hartzell's wife got earlier.

Tattoo artist and co-owner of The Shop Zack Simon, 40, tattoos a key into the arm of Damian Hartzell at The Shop on Dec. 22. The key matches a lock that Hartzell's wife got earlier.

Right in the entrance of The Shop on Main Street, there's a plush leather couch and entertainment center that looks like it belongs in a living room. 

"It's a family event," said tattoo artist and The Shop co-owner Zack Simon. "Parents come in and bring their kids. They get tattooed, their parents get tattooed and they hang out on the couch and watch TV."

Customers can also play chess, cards, or games on the Xbox 360. They don't necessarily even need to be customers if they already got a tattoo from Simon before.

"It's a safe place for the younger kids to hang out," Simon said. "It's for the 16-to-23-year-olds that have nothing to do."

That family-friendly atmosphere is just one way Simon is trying to break the stigma of tattoos and tattoo shops. "The tattoo business has changed so much since I started in 1993."

Simon, 40, grew up in an artist household in Ohio. His parents met while getting their art degrees at Marietta College. His father teaches art and makes sculptures, but Simon decided to go a different route.

 After Simon got his first tattoo at 17—a dragon on his back—he began learning the practice himself. He worked the late-shift as a grill cook and would study at a local tattoo shop beforehand.

"You have to get in with an artist who believes that you're not going to waste their time." It took Simon a year and a half to where he could move on from his apprenticeship and work solo.

From there he went to Indianapolis, then Chicago and then Fort Collins.

"I came to Colorado looking for a little piece of land and I built a cabin out past Fort Garland in the Sangre De Cristo Ranches. I came here to just kind of relax.

"This is my last stopping point. Twenty more years of tattooing and I'm done."

The art of tattooing speaks to him on a personal level, more so than other mediums. "People remember getting them and it's a special way to share my drawings. It's a lot quicker than sitting around with an easel waiting for someone to throw me money to paint them a picture."

A major influence on Simon's work is Paul Booth, who also started in the 90s. "His shade work changed a lot of things and it's realistic." Black and gray pieces like skeletons became Simon's favorite, though he'll still do whatever the customer wants. "It's an opportunity to put more detail in."

 If a customer comes in with an idea, usually an image on their smartphone from the web, then Simon can get them out of The Shop in roughly three hours with a finished tattoo. Usually, the entire process can take an average of four different visits at other shops.

"We'll bust our butts to make sure we get it done that day because there's going to be someone else coming in tomorrow who wants the same thing."

There are always at least two artists on site working a 12-hour day.

Simon and the other tattoo artists will also spend time consulting with customers if they don't have a design already picked out. And they aren't afraid to speak their mind if they believe the customer is making a bad decision.

"About 99 percent of the time they'll listen because they want a good piece of art."

Simon takes his work seriously because he understands the permanence of it. "We’re quick and we're into your piece. That's for life. We may do this every day and we've been doing it for years but we don't forget that it's permanent and that it's a big deal to people."

The nature of the work makes it an intimate experience between customer and artist. Frequently it turns into a sort of counseling session.

"You sit in that chair with someone for six hours or even a half hour," Simon said, "and when they're going through that pain there's nothing to do but talk."

Over time Simon has been able to get people to replace bad habits with tattoos. He's seen both ex-heroin addicts and cutters opt for ink instead because they can get a similar endorphin rush much more safely.

"If they walk in here with $30 after a bad week and walk out with a new tattoo then they're usually pretty good for a while. I've had customers bring me their knife that they used to cut themselves with and that's always a big, teary moment."

Though The Shop just opened in October, Simon already has plans for the future. Soon they'll have a skate shop in the back with boards decked out in their own custom graphics. 

"There's a niche in this town for kids of that age."

This interview was originally published in the December 27, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.