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Tattoo Shops Hit Hard By COVID-19 Pandemic


A lot of businesses have been forced to close to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including tattoo shops. But in some jurisdictions, tattoos are protected under the First Amendment as a form of free expression. Several California tattoo shop owners sued the state to reopen. They lost their case. But Tiffany Garcia-Mitchell, who owns Black Raven Tattoo, was part of the lawsuit, and she joins us now from Long Beach, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

TIFFANY GARCIA-MITCHELL: No problem, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: Well, how are you doing? How's business?

GARCIA-MITCHELL: Well, we're supposed to be shut down at this point, so there is no business.

SIMON: What was at the heart of your lawsuit?

GARCIA-MITCHELL: The heart of it was our First Amendment right. Tattooing is a protected art form under the Constitution, and so that's what we were targeting to ensure that we can continue to, you know, maintain and operate under our, you know, protected constitutional rights.

SIMON: The district judge in the tattoo parlor case said that in their judgment, COVID-19 restrictions didn't target free speech protections but that public health concerns were overriding. I wonder how you react to that.

GARCIA-MITCHELL: Well, just like everybody else, you know, we take the virus very seriously. We have a concern for the virus and safety. But as in other cases, you know, the U.S. Supreme Court has been quoted as saying the U.S. Constitution should not be set aside or forgotten even during a pandemic. So if the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the Constitution should be protected and upheld at all times, then so do we.

SIMON: Yeah. You were open for several weeks, I gather, last year and took some steps that you thought made your services safer, right?

GARCIA-MITCHELL: Yes. We'd put up barriers, added on extra rooms for stations that were semiprivate and worked with another company to develop an app. So we went completely paperless for our deposit forms and our waivers.

SIMON: But still, it's a close-contact business, isn't it? There's just no way around it. It's a tattoo.

GARCIA-MITCHELL: True, there is prolonged contact person to person, and there absolutely is no way around it. But since we had to go paperless, it's been very easy to document from the time that we were open how many clients we actually saw. And I calculate that we saw nearly 700 clients and still have not one single infection between artist to client or client to artist or between artists.

SIMON: That finding is kind of incomplete, though, isn't it? There might be people who would test positive but are, so far, asymptomatic.

GARCIA-MITCHELL: Absolutely. There's all kinds of variables involved. But it's just to our knowledge, nobody's contacted us to say, hey, I went to your shop and now I'm positive. We haven't had any positive tests amongst us, and we've all tested as well, just to be on the safe side.

SIMON: I have to ask, most of us on our show staff have been working remotely, and a couple of staff members have said that they've gotten pandemic tattoos. Is that your experience? Are there people choosing certain designs for pandemics when you were open?

GARCIA-MITCHELL: Most of the people that have gotten tattooed would like to focus on happier days and things that they miss, whether they've lost a pet during the pandemic, or a lot of people have gotten, you know, Disney tattoos because they feel, you know, they haven't been able to go to Disneyland. They miss it, and they just want to look at something that reminds them of that happier time.

SIMON: Tiffany Garcia-Mitchell of Long Beach, Calif., thank you so much for being with us.

GARCIA-MITCHELL: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "A POSTCARD TO NINA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.