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26 May 2020

Pandemic Stories: How One Desert Tattoo Shop Owner Is Coping With the Shutdown—and How She Plans to Safely Reopen

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Strata Tattoo Lab moved to a new location four months ago—shortly before being shut down by the stay-at-home order. Strata Tattoo Lab moved to a new location four months ago—shortly before being shut down by the stay-at-home order.

Perhaps you’ve thought about getting some work on your arm, or maybe adding some colorful scales to the massive dragon inked on your back. Maybe you have a yen for a nipple-piercing … or something more south of the border.

If so, until Stage 3 of the reopening process begins in earnest, you’re out of luck in California—unless you find a tattoo shop or piercing parlor that’s opened up again, either secretly or in deliberate defiance of state law.

Four months ago, Jay’e Jones spent $30,000 to move her Yucca Valley tattoo shop, Strata Tattoo Lab, to a new location. The timing, as we all now know, couldn’t have been worse. Jones is obeying the law and trying to stay optimistic until tattooing and piercing parlors, along with hair and nail salons and gyms, can reopen during Stage 3.

“Newsom was teasing (in one of his daily press conferences) that he might be ready to (fully) reopen Stage 3 in early June,” Jones says.

(For the record, the Independent contacted four area tattoo parlors for this story. Jones, who has owned Strata since 2008, was the only business owner to return our texts, calls and emails.)

California is being one of the most cautious states when it comes to reopening tattoo shops. Mississippi—whose governor, Tate Reeves, stated “there is no such thing as a nonessential business”—has taken the opposite approach, reopening the state’s parlors on May 15, albeit under a new set of rules that may provide a template for states like ours: All tattoos and piercings are done by appointment only, and there is no public waiting room inside the building; customers wait outside or in their cars. One customer per employee is allowed in at any one time; in other words, you can’t bring a buddy for moral support. Both customers and employees must wear masks, and employees must wear gloves (as is done in most tattoo parlors already). There also are specific rules about cleaning and sanitizing workspaces and the common areas of the business.

The artists at Strata will implement similar practices and procedures when the shop reopens, says Jones. The shop will operate at 25 percent capacity, and public areas will be deep-sanitized every 30 minutes.

“We as an industry are well-versed germaphobes,” says Jones, “and pride ourselves in our cleanliness and prevention of cross-contamination. We know how to correctly use masks, gloves and many other types of PPE.

“All body art artists (at Strata),” she adds, “are required to annually pass a bloodborne pathogens exam, as well as update their Infection Prevention and Control Plan, including proof of sterilization receipts for single-use pre-sterilized materials that have been purchased.”

Reputable tattoo and piercing parlors are already sanitary places, with single-use needles and ink, along with other items being autoclaved, similar to surgical instruments. Jones says she had “three to five months” of PPE gear stocked before the coronavirus crisis hit.

The Association of Professional Piercers, an international nonprofit and alliance that provides information for both piercers and piercing aficionados, has provided best-practices guidelines for its members and others in the age of COVID-19. (Strata no longer provides piercing.) But Jones says that in the tattoo world, “it’s every man for himself.” The state of California has not issued its own specific guidelines for reopening tattoo shops, and, she says, there’s no umbrella organization to issue top-down best practices—so owners are tasked with coming up with their own safety standards, beyond the ones that already govern tattoo parlors.

“We have received zero information or support from both the state and (San Bernardino) County, aside from the closure order, which was indefinite, until further notice,” Jones says.

While she waits to reopen, Jones and the tattooists from her parlor are trying to keep busy. She works with four other tattooists, each of whom has a specialty, and all of whom qualify as gig workers, rather than employees.

“Everybody’s got their side hustle on,” she says.

Those side hustles include selling gift certificates for future tattoos, custom art, prints and paintings. The Strata Tattoo Lab’s webpage is selling gift certificates, as well as offering at-home consultations over Skype and other video-chat services. A business-owner grant from the city of Yucca Valley helped, Jones says.

But to a tattooist, nothing will replace the sound of needles buzzing.

Strata Tattoo Lab is located at 7257 Mohawk Trail, in Yucca Valley. For more information, call 760-369-8288, or visit www.stratatattoolab.com. Kevin Allman is a Southern California-based journalist. Find him on Twitter @kevinallman.

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