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Tattoos remain a must-have accessory, even in recession

Tattoo parlors are seeing steady profits, as consumers shift spending toward purchases that are more meaningful.

By Kathryn PerryContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / May 11, 2009

Tattoo artist Ben Pease works on a new design for Jen Kim at Pino Bros. Ink in Cambridge, Mass. Despite the hard times, tattoo parlors are not seeing a slow down.




Of all the luxuries Americans could give up in today's hard times, an $80 tattoo of a French quote from Albert Camus sure seems like a no-brainer.

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Not to Natalie Kearns.

Despite having a full-time job at Boston's Huntington Theater Co., Ms. Kearns feels the pinch of recession. In fact, the recent college graduate is living with her parents to save money. But do without Camus? No way.

"It's a quote I've loved for a really long time," she says. "It's sort of a mantra."

Such dedication is paying off for parlors across America. At a time when luxury goods are struggling, tattoos appear to be, if not recession-proof, at least recession-resistant.

With no national association for the tattoo industry, national trends are difficult to gauge. But anecdotally, tattoo parlors across the US are reporting a steady – and sometimes dramatic – rise in profits. The retail tattoo outlet Tattoo Nation, for example, recently announced plans to open nine shopping center locations in major cities like New York and Los Angeles after sales at their New Jersey store increased by 30 percent last year – amid price increases.

Some 36 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds have a tattoo, according to a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center. The number climbs to 40 percent for 26- to 40-year-olds. The allure of tattoos is more apparent in times of recession, says Kit Yarrow, a business psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

They communicate something about the person, something they are passionate about or that expresses their unique sense of selfhood. "Tattoos resonate with how consumers are shopping now," she says. "They look for something that reflects their values, a sense of belonging, and permanence."

Parlors nationwide see the evidence of that:

•At Pino Bros. Ink in Cambridge, Mass., initial concerns about the recession harming business were quickly dispelled. "If anything, we noticed a bump," says owner Frank Pino.

•At Stingray Body Art and More in Boston, owner Scott Matalon is a bit more cautious, but also upbeat: "Our growth has been steady, although it's slowed."

•At Tattoo City, in Lockport, Ill., business has remained steady, with an increase in older clients coming in for their first tattoo. "The old timers in the industry will tell you that through hard times and even depression eras, people still get tattooed," says owner Larry Brogan.

•At Independent Tattoo in Selbyville, Del., owner and artist Matthew Amey says that his business has seen the same phenomenon. "Just last week one of my coworkers tattooed an 83-year-old woman getting her first tattoo," he says.