Pandemic spikes tattoo business as clients yearn to mark the moment

As more Americans resolve to change their lives after a tumultuous year and a half, many are choosing to get tattoos: D.C.-area tattoo-shop owners are reporting a boom in business, even though the pandemic all but shuttered other industries.

Inside Lady Octopus, in Arlington, Virginia, artist Gilda Acosta shades in a touch of light green on the leaves of a primrose. Client Meg Little, of Alexandria, booked this appointment seven months ago.

“I finally was just like, I’m gonna do it. Because of COVID probably, I would say,” Little said, wincing slightly as Acosta continued to work on her forearm.

woman gets a tattoo
Artist Gilda Acosta adds a highlight to the petals of Meg Little’s new primrose tattoo inside the Lady Octopus Tattoo shop in Arlington, Virginia. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Lady Octopus has always taken appointments for its artists, and saw a jump in demand for appointments when it reopened in June. It’s something Acosta attributes to the downtime COVID-19 forced upon people.

“Having time to sit at home and contemplate and look at ourselves, and think about life goals and the things that we really want — you’d be surprised how many people arrive at this solution,” she said. “I think if people have been sitting on the fence about getting a tattoo, having all this time to contemplate has definitely helped them move in that direction.”

“We have been busy since we reopened, but it’s really just with more people booking appointments,” said Matthew Knopp, of Tattoo Paradise, which has three locations in D.C. and in  Wheaton and Rockville in Maryland. “Whereas before we did more walk-in stuff.”

Industry research firm Ibis World forecasts the tattoo industry in the U.S. will grow 23% this year. Millennials are driving the spike in business, but the firm reports 46% of all Americans already have some kind of ink on their bodies. While the designs they decide to commit to for the rest of their lives varies, Acosta said she sees themes.

“It’s always things that are close to the heart — a lot of pet-inspired tattoos, loved ones that have passed. [Clients] memorialize them through tattoos all the time. But also things such as video games — lots of hobbies and interests,” Acosta said.

Acosta has been a tattoo artist for 18 years, since graduating from the Corcoran School of Art and Design, in D.C. She owns the shop with her fiance, Jonathan Reed, and their business is doing so well, they plan to relocate near Whole Foods in Arlington.

“That used to be the old Sears building,” Reed said. “My parents would take me in there to get my jeans for school. And literally where you walk in and turn will be our new space … It’s 1,400 square feet,” Reed said of the new retail space.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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