Chesterton Tribune



BZA okays use variance for tattoo parlor on South Calumet Rd

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The members of the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals are in agreement: they may have no tattoos themselves, they’re likely never to get one, but they see no reason at all why local tattooist Nic Bender shouldn’t set up a parlor of his own in the strip mall at 1505 S. Calumet Road.

At their meeting Thursday night, members voted unanimously to grant the owner of the strip mall--MNB Development Company--a use variance to permit a tattoo parlor in space at the far west end of the mall, which is also home to Tiger Lily and Fireflies Fun Zone.

A variance is required because the Zoning Ordinance’s use table, which hasn’t been updated in years, doesn’t include tattoo parlor. How many years? As Bender’s attorney, Greg Babcock, observed, the use table does include businesses which, in Chesterton at least, have long since gone the way of rotary phones, cassette tapes, and Ask Jeeves: video store, cinema (both indoor and outdoor), shoe sales, newsdealer, and billiard room.

Town Engineer Mark O’Dell emphasized that the use variance granted on Thursday only allows Bender to operate a tattoo parlor in the mall at 1505 S. Calumet Road. It isn’t transferable to any other location or to any other tattooist.

Bender, a CHS graduate whose own two children were born and raised in Chesterton, has been tattooing for 15 years, mostly at Bluebird Tattoo in Portage but more recently as a contractor at Speak Easy Tattoo on North Ave. in Chicago. Over the years he’s tattooed professionals, public officials, musicians, performers, and athletes, although, Bender told the board, he’s built a loyal clientele--chiefly women aged 20 to 40--who are happy to follow him from shop to shop. Bender has also tattooed all over the country, which means, he said, that he’s been “cross-pollinated” by each state’s specific sanitation standards.

Bender noted that tattoos aren’t spur-of-the-moment doodles but rather the results of a careful, deliberative process. Any given tattoo begins with a consultation, at which he and his client discuss the design itself and work through its complexities. “It’s my job to guide clients to quality, long-lasting applications,” he said.

Bender’s specialty: American Traditional. His standard rate, depending on the tattoo: $150 to $250 per hour. The hours of operation at his shop, which he anticipates opening by the end of August: 12 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment.

“I hope eventually to be a source of pride for the town,” Bender told the board.

Babcock, for his part, reiterated a point he made at the preliminary hearing in June: tattoos are a $1.5-billion industry and 38 percent of Americans aged 18-29 have at least one of them. They are, in short, art, and tattooists are now recognized as artists. “If you have one tattoo,” Babcock added, “there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have more than one.”

At a public hearing which preceded the vote, one person spoke in favor of the petition and one against.

Greg Hertzlieb, who back in the day taught creative writing to Bender at CHS, spoke strongly in favor of the variance. “I’ve watched Nic’s art career grow,” he said. “I would trust Nic to do a tattoo on me, and I’m fairly choosy. I really think Nic takes an artisanal approach. Nic knows at what point a good tattoo turns into something you’re stuck with. I have the utmost confidence in him. I think he would bring a classy approach.”

Deanne Nanojlovic, on the other hand, strongly opposed the variance. “Tattoos aren’t the image the Town of Chesterton wants to portray,” she said. “I don’t see a tattoo parlor helping to contribute to our image of quaint and old-fashioned. I think the town has other needs.” Nanojlovic also objected on the ground that the 18-29 demographic probably can’t afford to be spending $150 to $250 per hour on something like tattoos.

To which Member Kim Goldak promptly replied, “It’s not our place to spend someone else’s money or tell them what they can spend their money on.”

Member Jim Kowalski concurred. “I cannot dictate who should have a tattoo and who not,” he said. “It’s none of my business.”

The board instead focused on two different considerations: the age of the clients whom Bender would be tattooing and sanitation.

Although the State of Indiana permits youths 16 and older to obtain a tattoo with their parents’ permission, Bender was adamant that he only tattoos adults. “I don’t do that demographic,” he said. “Ethically I don’t believe in that.”

On the issue of sanitation, Bender said that the State of Indiana regulates tattoo parlors and requires tattooists to be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of blood-borne pathogens. In addition to that, the Porter County Health Department, in its discretion, may conduct random unannounced inspections of a tattoo parlor at any time. Finally, Bender is required to keep detailed logs of his clients, should it be necessary--and it never has been--to track them down in the future should a health issue arise.

O’Dell added that the Chesterton Building and Fire departments would be prepared to coordinate spot inspections of Bender’s parlor as well.

Member Fred Owens, meanwhile, remarked on the mainstreaming of tattoos. “Times have changed,” he said. “Twenty or 30 years ago tattoo parlors may have had a poorer reputation, deserved or not.”

Member Joe Ackerman made note of the fact that Bender’s landlord, Marilyn Busch--the owner of MNB Development and the petitioner in this case--has clearly placed her confidence in Bender and in his venture. “It says a lot that the owner of Fireflies is the person most on board with this,” he said.


Posted 7/26/2019




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