STERLING – When Robert Cooksey, owner of Skin Deep Tattoo and Piercing in Sterling, wanted to open a tattoo parlor in Rock Falls, he came up against a roadblock of sorts.
He wanted to open in Rock Falls because it has no tattoo parlors, "there are more buildings for sale or lease there than in Sterling," and he thought he might get a lower rent, he said.
But he changed his mind when he learned the city has an ordinance that considers tattoo parlors an "adult" industry that may locate only in an M2 zone. In Rock Falls, that's the industrial park.
The ordinance was approved in the 1970s after an "adult" business on the first block of West Second Street, which did not provide tattoos, "became a very undesirable place," Mayor David Blanton said.
It was not intended to discourage tattoo parlors from coming to Rock Falls, Blanton said. At the time, there were no tattoo parlors in the Sauk Valley – local residents had to go to Chicago for body art, he said.
A tattoo parlor in the industrial park could draw business, Blanton said.
"People will go where the business is at if they want the service, so whether it's uptown or the industrial park or Route 30, it makes no difference," he said.
Cooksey, however, finds the industrial park undesirable because "it's all warehouses." A tattoo shop owner would have to build his own building, and it "would take a lot more money than you would make," he said.
The time might have come for Rock Falls to revise its ordinance, Cooksey said.
"Tattoos have changed a lot since then as far as cleanliness and the way they're looked at by employers," he said.
Dixon allows tattoo parlors, but has none at the moment. Its ordinance, last revised Dec. 3, 2007, says a tattoo parlor must pay $420 a year for a body art establishment license, and each tattoo artist must pay $50 a year for a body art technician license.
Sterling, which has four parlors, charges no such fees.
Dixon's ordinance also states that nobody, other than a person with an Illinois medical license, may tattoo anyone younger than 21.
Rob LeSage is attorney for the city of Dixon.
In 1999 when the city ordinance was drafted, state law stated that any person other than someone licensed to practice medicine in all its branches who tattoos or offers a tattoo to a person under age 21 is guilty of a class C misdemeanor, LeSage said. The state law changed in 2006 to make it a class A misdemeanor for a person who is not licensed to practice medicine in all its branches to tattoo or offer a tattoo to a person under age 18, LeSage said.
"The city has the legal authority to regulate tattoo parlors including not allowing them, LeSage said. "If the city wanted to amend its ordinance to allow someone to tattoo, other than a licensed physician, persons under age 18, it certainly could do so, but that would be a policy decision for the city council."
Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said he would not object to another parlor opening in the city.
"There are people who like to get tattoos, and we have an ordinance on the books that allows it," he said. "We'd honor a legitimate request."
Tattoo parlors provide a service, and so bring in no sales tax revenue. But they do generate income tax, said Sue Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
And, like any other business, they have the potential to bring customers to town who might support other businesses, Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard said.
"I have no issue with them," he said. "Anything that creates traffic in an area is a welcome addition."
A tattoo parlor would be welcome in Rock Falls, depending on "where it's at and what it is," Blanton said, but he's not sure a fifth could survive in the Twin Cities.
"How many can you support?" he said. "I'd be interested to know how much business the existing tattoo parlors get and how profitable they are."
About this series
This is the sixth and final story in a series by SVM reporter Bridget Flynn called Sauk Valley Ink that has featured local tattoo shops and local perspectives on tattoos.
Where's the ink?
Lee County has no tattoo parlors. Whiteside County has the following six:
Zodiac Studios, 926 Eighth Ave.
Opie's Tat's, 105 W. Lincolnway
House of Pain, 10 E. Fourth St.
Ink Storm, 110 S. Second Ave.
Skin Deep, 1813 Locust St.
Tim's Professional Tattooing, 1306 W. Fourth St.