Tattoo studios get boost from tax refunds


By Gillian Brockell

Medill News Service

Tax refunds spur tattoo customers at area studios.
Ben Mills sits still while artist Allie Sider tattoos a cloud on his shoulder at Code of Conduct in Chicago. Photo by Gillian Brockell.

— Most people might not associate tattoos with taxes, but Chicago tattoo artists do.  As taxpayers receive refunds, business picks up at tattoo studios, they said.

“It’s pretty much like clockwork,” says Marshall Brown, a tattoo artist at Revolution Tattoo in Bucktown. “You see an influx of people” starting in April, he said.

Brown estimated his  April sales  climb 5 percent to 10 percent from prior months, while Metamorph Tattoo and Body Piercing  Studios in Wicker Park sees a 30 percent hike in revenue this time of year,  according to Derek Mullins, owner and artist.  “We don’t rely on it, but we’re aware of the pattern,” Mullins says.

Tax day kicks off the tattoo season

Summer is the busiest season for tattoo artists, when customers can show off their new ink in skimpier clothing, but tax day is the unofficial kickoff to the seasonal boom, experts said.  

The influx of customers is especially welcome in the wake of the Great Recession, during which Mullins saw profits drop more than 50 percent, he said.

Even small refunds can spur customers to visit tattoo parlors. Ben Mills, a 23-year-old software engineer, made an appointment with tattoo artist Allie Sider at Code of Conduct in the South Loop soon after he sent in his tax return. “I was on the fence about it, but then when I found out about [the refund], it reinforced the idea,” said Mills, who received the tattoo April 17.

Sider said  his  tattoo sales typically climb 10 percent to 20 percent as customers receive  tax refunds.

Tax season or not, tattoos have grown in popularity, experts said. About one in four Americans had at least one  tattoo in 2008, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.  Younger adults were more likely to have multiple tattoos. About  38 percent of those  18 to 29  years old had  tattoos, and among them, one-fifth had six or more works of body art, the study reported.

Complex designs push up cost

Mills said he spent $300 on his tattoo, while many  reported  spending more. An unofficial online poll conducted by a reporter in February indicated two-thirds of the 102 respondents spent more than $500 on tattoos. Nine percent said they had spent more than $5,000.

Some regard tattoos as works of art, and complex designs cost more. Mullins  said about  70 percent of his customers  want custom pieces that  require more time than tattoos  for walk-in customers.  Many custom pieces involve creating  original artwork and require  multiple sessions  over a period of months, said Mullins, who has a fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.