COVID-19: 'Ink Master' artists criticize Florida tattoo studio shutdown
"Ink Master" contestant and Cocoa Beach tattoo artist Mark Longenecker has a message for Gov. Ron DeSantis: Come see how clean and sterile my shuttered shop is — and I'll offer you a free tattoo.
Florida tattoo studios remain closed, though DeSantis let hair salons, barber shops and nail salons reopen last week during the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 2, DeSantis visited an Orlando barber shop, where he conducted a COVID-19 hair salon discussion. Longenecker — and tattoo artists across the Sunshine State — took note of the media event. And they say they're getting the short end of the stick.
"The tattoo industry? We're forgotten about. It's not like we're a bunch of bikers that are bad people. The old stereotypes are long gone," said Longenecker, who opened Endless Summer Tattoo in 2004. He has 13 employees.
"We're taxpaying citizens. We pay for licensing for a reason. We have just as much bills and mortgages and rent, babies to feed, just like everyone else," Longenecker said.
"We're all voters, too. We tattoo people who vote," he said.
During a typical workday, Longenecker spends five to eight hours crafting a single tattoo in his signature "tropistyle" — and he said he'll use a 100-count box of gloves in the process.
Florida is home to 9,000 to 10,000 tattoo artists and about 4,100 registered tattoo and body art shops, said Selina Medina, legislative liaison with the Florida Professional Tattoo Artist Guild.
The Florida Department of Health requires completion of a bloodborne pathogen and communicable diseases training course before issuing a tattoo artist license.
Messages seeking comment were left Monday with DeSantis' office. No announcement has been made regarding reopening tattoo parlors.
Medina owns Girly Tattoos in Jacksonville. A 19-year artist, she is also a regulatory project manager for suppliers World Famous Tattoo Ink, Ultimate Tattoo Supply and Perma Blend. She also serves on the body art committee of the Association of Food and Drug Officials, a regulatory organization.
"I feel it's discriminatory, because they're not even granting us any ability to talk to anyone. No one is answering our questions," Medina said of the governor's office.
"I don't think that this really was intentional. I think this was more of an administrative oversight, and they're so bombarded that they're trying to catch up. I feel that that's OK," Medina said.
"But in order to correct that, so that people can resume business — as tattooing and body piercing is a safe practice, because of our sanitation measures that are built into the fabric of our industry — we should be allowed to reopen," she said.
Florida hair salons, nail salons and barber shops have resumed operations on an appointment-only basis during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Among the guidelines:
• Employees must allow at least 15 minutes between appointments for proper disinfecting practices.
• Masks must be worn by all employees while performing personal services.
• All unnecessary, frequently touched items like magazines, newspapers, service menus and paper products should be removed from customer areas.
• All surfaces, tools and linens should be disinfected.
"I feel it's an injustice to be segregated and pulled out of the personal-care services schedule," Medina said.
Monday, DeSantis let restaurants increase indoor seating to 50% of capacity. Retail stores, museums, libraries, gyms and fitness centers got the green light to operate at 50% of building occupancy.
In 2014, Space Coast artists Longenecker and Jayvo Scott competed in Season 5 of "Ink Master," the Spike TV tattoo reality competition. Longenecker advanced to the semifinal round.
Today, Scott owns True To You Tattoo, which moved from Merritt Island to Melbourne in October. An actor, he appeared on NBC's "Good Girls" in 2018. He produced and co-starred in the short film "Riviera," which debuted in October at the Melbourne Independent Filmmakers Festival and won the People’s Choice Audience Award.
Standing in his neon-lit tattoo studio on Wickham Road, Scott said each of his three artist's stations measure 11-by-7.5 feet — "social distancing is not a problem." He said his studio uses hospital-grade disinfectants to kill germs and viruses.
"I think that they just don't know enough about our industry. And we just need to educate them. Because we're not scumbags. I know tattooing has come a long way," Scott said.
"It used to be really taboo back the days: bikers, and gang members, and even sailors. But you know, it's funny. Sailors, these are Navy guys. We have a Navy guy who works here. He's a good guy. He provides for his family. He's been in the Navy 18 years," he said.
"These are all regular, normal people. We just want to get back to work and be able to provide for our families," he said.
Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik supports reopening Endless Summer Tattoo, along with similar studios statewide. He also invited DeSantis to tour Longenecker's studio.
"Their industry is, frankly, more sterile than hair salons and nail salons. And If they're not being allowed to open, it impacts them financially," Malik said.
"They've been a solid member of our community. Mark's shop is always the first to step up for any community event. And it's a shame that this business isn't allowed to open, given the rigorous, stringent health requirements that are required to pass this license and get this shop running," he said.
In Inverness, Twistid Ink owner Elisha Belden launched an online petition Friday calling for DeSantis to reopen tattoo studios. The petition had garnered more than 13,600 signatures by Monday afternoon.
After DeSantis visited the Orlando barber shop, Belden said she spent two weeks trying to contact the governor's office — even submitting handwritten notes — to no avail.
"When I saw that, I was like, 'Well, wait a minute.' We have way-stricter policies on how we're supposed to clean our studios," Belden said.
"If you're going to open them, it's no longer essential vs. nonessential. At that point, we're playing favorites."
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or email@example.com. Twitter: @RickNeale1.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.