116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A year ago at this time, many tattoo parlors were just reopening after being closed for several months due to the pandemic.
“Everyone was frightened with how COVID-19 could affect our work setting and atmosphere,” recalled Elizabeth Bousman of Mystic Tat2 in Cedar Rapids.
But for the better part of the last year, tattoo parlors in the Corridor have been trying to keep up with demand.
“The tricky aspect of the past year was the high influx of individuals wanting in — same day or relatively soon — to get a tattoo,” Bousman said.
“We just didn’t have the manpower to get them in and couldn’t believe how quickly our schedules filled up.”
Jason Evans, owner of Neon Dragon Tattoo, which he opened in Cedar Rapids in 2005, said his artists traditionally stay solidly booked for months at a time and the last year was no different.
“Typically we can’t keep up with the amount of people wanting to get in, but lately we’ve seen an influx in people wanting to get tattoos,” Evans said.
He said the biggest issue for quite some time was rescheduling clients whose appointments were canceled during the period of time that tattoo parlors had to close their doors.
“For the most part, other than the two months that we were closed due to COVID and the 10 days or so closed from (the Aug. 10, 2020) derecho, business has been as steady as usual,” Evans said. “We’ve been very blessed over the years to stay consistently busy.
“Our clients are amazing and have been great working with us during the pandemic and how hard it was to reschedule tattoo appointments.”
“We were very appreciative to all of our clients who had been postponed during the quarantine after waiting months to get in already and were flexible to reschedule,” Bousman said.
“All our artists worked overtime and on days off to get them back into our schedule as timely as we could. Luckily we got caught up fairly quickly and were happy to resume our normal schedule, only shortly after to be caught with the derecho.”
Michelle Balhan, tattoo artist and owner of Velvet Lotus in Iowa City, said her staff scrambled to reschedule three months’ worth of appointments as well, all while taking new appointment requests. Even today, having moved to appointments-only, Velvet Lotus is booked out three to six months.
Balhan said they moved to a system where they open up requests for new appointments every once in a while and work through those before taking on more work.
“So many people want that instant gratification, but with us and many tattoo parlors it just won’t work like that,” she said.
Balhan did note that lately they have had a lot of clients calling in having to cancel an appointment they made as they can’t get time off work. So she has started a call list to see about fitting in other clients when that happens.
The pandemic has forced some adjustments in operations, such as procedures used to talk through ideas and procedures with clients.
“Rather than being able to communicate in person, we had to do more online or phone consultations,” Evans said.
Enforcing COVID health protocols
They also had to meet health code protocols by enforcing only having a certain number of people in their venue, social distancing and wearing masks along with continued proper cleaning and maintenance of the shop and equipment.
At Mystic Tat2, Bousman said it was challenging at times to keep up with all the new and differing information coming out in terms of mandates and protocols.
“Because of our already-practiced maintenance for our shop, we were prepared for extra cleaning and the mandatory requirements. But to not be informed prior to the public about a new rule or requirement made it difficult to give out the correct information for our clients,” she said.
“I think looking back we did the best we could with the information we had, and again are thankful for the patience and understanding from our clients.”
What tattoos are people getting?
As for trends in the types of tattoos people are coming in to get, local artists said that those continue to ebb and flow.
“Floral work has blown up within the last year,” Bousman noted.
“We are seeing a huge expansion in delicate tattoos, flora and fauna, as well as realistic pieces.”
“Nowadays, you never know what type of tattoo may come through the door,” Evans added.
“Each of our artists are extremely diverse and capable of doing any style of body art. However, we each have styles that we prefer to work in.
“We try to guide our clientele to research our artists and to go with an artist that they feel comfortable with in whatever style tattoo that they are wanting.”
‘Be willing to wait’
Even though it may be hard to get an appointment these days, local artists also caution clients that it’s worth the wait.
“The one thing we tell the public if given the opportunity is to choose your artist carefully and be willing to wait for a good one,” Bousman said. “If you rush into something, you will likely come out with something you’re not happy with.”
Bousman noted that with the huge rise of social media, it is important to recognize what is real and what is heavily filtered when looking at tattoos online.
“A lot of these incredible pieces take time and a lot of sessions. It isn’t something that can be done in one or even two sittings. They can take months and sometimes years to complete a complex piece.”
As for the weeks and months ahead, business looks as if it will remain strong.
“It's still kind of speculation as to why we were so busy, but people were getting stimulus checks and had extra income from canceled vacations and not travelling,” Balhan said. “They weren't going to out to the bar and restaurants and movie theaters and even the mall.
“And typically summer kind of slows down for us. We'll see if that happens. I'm really curious to see if they will wait until fall when they know they won’t be in the sun or swimming too much.”
“Many of our artists quickly became booked out several months ahead and continue to be pressing into the next calendar year,” Bousman said. “Whether this is due to the extra unemployment and stimulus money, tax season — which is typical busy season for us — or even because tattoos are one of the only forms of entertainment during the shut down, I couldn’t say.
“But we are happy to be buzzing with business.”