Originally created 08/15/04

Tattoo zoning angers artists



COLUMBIA - From North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island and places inland, local governments are beginning to zone their cities and towns for tattoo parlors, leaving some of the needling artists little room to locate.

Even though South Carolina's ban on tattooing has been lifted by legislators, tattooists still face potentially stiff rules that will restrict where they can set up shop. Some say location is crucial, and they don't want to be forced to open shop near porn stores or strip clubs.

They also say it's another form of discrimination and stereotyping of those who give and get tattoos, but some local officials have said it's a sensitive issue and might need further regulations.

Before any legal tattoos are given, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control must craft regulations that need the Legislature's approval.

Those rules, which are at least six months from being complete, contain few zoning requirements, limiting tattoo businesses only from within 1,000 feet of a church, school or playground.

However, some residents are taking the zoning a step farther.

About two years ago, the city of Myrtle Beach restricted tattoo parlors to medical areas, where rent could be high, and light industrial areas, which also are set aside for strip clubs.

"We were well ahead of the curve on this," city spokesman Mark Kruea said. The town council didn't want the businesses on popular Ocean Boulevard.

"That's an accommodations, commercial, amusement area, and council didn't see the compatibility there," Mr. Kruea said.

Forcing tattoo shops to locate near adult entertainment clubs just reinforces stereotypes associated with tattoos, says John Black, a Georgia tattooist.

Mr. Black and his wife, Susan, own Lady Luck Tattoos in Ludowici, Ga., about 70 miles southwest of Hilton Head Island, which recently zoned for tattoo parlors.

Tattoos have long been associated with seedy and sketchy people, Mr. Black said, who once was compared to a drug dealer at a Statehouse committee meeting.

"That's the old way of thinking. We're not those people. We are actual artists, and our medium is the human body," Mr. Black said.

What the rules are

Cities across the state have created their own regulations on zoning for tattoo parlors. Here is a breakdown of the laws about where tattoo artists may set up shop:

Myrtle Beach: Medical areas and light industrial areas, including where strip clubs are located

Charleston: Some business areas, including downtown along King Street

Hilton Head: Small area near a resort and along the Calibogue Sound

Florence: Still in the planning stages, discussing residential restrictions