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Port Jefferson shops such as Hookah City on Main Street, above, sell hookahs. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Taking a stand against what some see as troubling business activity and the undesirable type of people it attracts, the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees approved a law Monday night that effectively bans new hookah-selling shops and tattoo parlors.

Residents and village officials have been vocal lately about the abundance of shops on Main Street selling hookahs and products related to the smoking apparatuses, with some saying the stores attract a criminal element and sell unhealthy products. More than a year after a similar yet simpler proposal was abandoned, the board has amended its zoning code to restrict those businesses, as well as tattoo parlors and adult establishments like topless bars, to the Light Industrial I-2 District.

The village’s four current hookah shops will not be shuttered under the new law because they represent preexisting uses, but the measure all but bans future hookah shops, hookah parlors, tattoo parlors and adult businesses, as there are only two properties in the entire village in the I-2 zoning district — on Columbia Street — and both are already occupied.

Board members approved the law at their Monday meeting with a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Bruce Miller and Bruce D’Abramo in opposition.

D’Abramo was the most vocal opponent of the proposal’s previous iteration, which would have simply banned hookah parlors — lounges where people can smoke tobacco products using a hookah. He repeated a stance at the meeting that he held through that last proposal as well as through discussion about the new law: that the government should let the free market regulate legally operating businesses.

“I believe that the marketplace cannot support four of these places in the village,” he said. “I think it will serve only to make our code book thicker and therefore dilute its effectiveness. … I believe the marketplace will do the same thing that it did when we had a yogurt place across the street from another yogurt place. … And it closed.”

Although there were more calls from residents opposed to the village interfering with the market the first time around — with some even comparing hookah establishments to the village’s numerous bars that are allowed to operate — D’Abramo did not receive as much resident support recently.

Over the last few board meetings, concerned parents and neighbors have called upon the village to take action against hookah-selling shops, citing fears that they will sell paraphernalia and dangerous substances to underage patrons and attract loiterers and drug dealers. Resident Nancy Cerullo said Monday she is concerned about “the culture that it is bringing.”

When residents asked about banning the shops outright, officials pointed out that would be unconstitutional, but said they could restrict the locations where they operate.

“As long as you allow it to be somewhere,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

With the discussion of the law dominated by comments about hookah shops, Barbara Sabatino, a resident, business owner and planning board member, questioned whether tattoo parlors should be lumped in with those establishments in the new restrictions. She noted that tattoos are becoming more mainstream, particularly among young adults.

The Board of Trustees narrowly voted to approve the law moments after closing the public hearing.

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Rich Zayas Jr. works his girlfriend’s tattoo. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

The intermittent sound of buzzing machinery rattles off like machine gun fire, while guitar riffs and drum work pour from the sound system of the Inked Republic storefront at Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore.

Inked Republic is a retail store that doubles as a tattooing and piercing parlor owned and operated by Tattoo Lous — a company established in 1958 that has several shops scattered across Long Island.

Inside Inked Republic, apparel featuring tattoo-inspired designs sits on shelves and hangs from racks, and opposite them is an array of custom guitars that are proudly displayed on the far wall of the shop.

The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl
The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl

Just past a roped-off motorcycle emblazoned with skulls and a Lou’s company logo is the shop’s live tattooing area. The first of two work stations belongs to Rich Zayas Jr., a 36-year-old Long Beach native living in Bay Shore, who works for Tattoo Lou’s and who has been tattooing professionally for just under four years.

Zayas is of average height and has long hair tucked underneath a black baseball cap that he wears backwards. His loose-fitting, black T-shirt has an oversized print of some original artwork drawn by Dmitriy Samohin, an artist from Ukraine, that features a skull design with octopus tentacles.

He and his girlfriend, Melissa Ann White, make their way to his workstation, passing the front desk where the glow of warm neon lights casts a shimmering bright blue hue onto the piercing supplies and tattoo aftercare products shelved behind glass displays.

Zayas says that he started work on White’s back tattoo in 2012, and that it was finally time to finish it. The design: a Day of the Dead-themed sugar skull girl wearing a cowl.

As he begins prepping his station, Zayas reaches for the bottom shelf of his stickered tackle box to reveal a rainbow assortment of tattoo ink in the neighborhood of 200 bottles. “It’s totally normal for artists to have this much,” says Zayas.

A tattoo parlor operating inside a mall is a recent phenomenon. “Irish” Jay Mohl, 45, owns Irish Jay Tattoo in Miller Place and is an artist with 23 years tattooing experience. He recalls a different time when first getting his start in the industry back in 1992.

“When I first started, it was a completely different business; there was a different mentality and it was a very rogue profession,” says Mohl. “You had a whole different segment of people that came in here. They were drinking and crazy, and you had total outlaws coming in, and now it’s not crazy anymore; it’s very normal.”

Now that tattooing has gone mainstream, body art is no longer a choice of expression solely for outlaws and drunks with criminal records. People from all walks of life, who value the beauty of art and the freedom of self-expression, have made and continue to make the leap into body modification. With the practice having become more culturally accepted, more people are seeking quality artists, and the demand for custom tattoos has risen.

“[Tattooing] is so culturally accepted right now, it’s almost like a rite of passage,” said Mohl. “I think it’s become a new way of people expressing themselves, and with the popularity of it on TV and all the media and everything like that, it really has opened the door for a lot of people.”

Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp
Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp

Mohl isn’t alone, as more and more artists have noticed this trend and understand the changes affecting the industry as a whole.

Zayas understands this shift, and his employment at a retail and tattooing hub nestled in a shopping mall shows just how far the industry has come. Years ago, a mall would have been the unlikeliest of places to get tattooed, but things have undoubtedly changed, with artists adapting to new customer demands for convenience and greater accessibility.

“Being in the mall kind of closes that weird stigma gap in between things to where you can have the lady that’s shopping in Lord and Taylor or Macy’s come in and maybe have something that was done bad years ago…fixed or covered up,” Zayas said. “Or maybe [she can] get that first tattoo that she’s been petrified about forever.”

When it comes to the kind of art being tattooed, themes and the art itself range anywhere from lettering to hyperrealism. Deciding on the right design and its placement will always be dependent on the client’s tastes, personality and life experiences.

Stacey Sharp, a 42-year-old tattoo artist working at InkPulsive Custom Tattooing in Lake Ronkonkoma, said that people who get tattooed do so to express themselves and to connect with others, and sometimes certain events in a person’s life can heavily influence their choice in art.

“Life-changing experience I think is a big one — a birth, a death, something that’s profound,” says Sharp. “There are a lot of people that say, ‘I normally wouldn’t do this, but I feel like this is a momentous occasion and I have to keep that with me all of the time.’”

On the other hand, Sharp also acknowledged there are people who have always known what they’ve wanted to get tattooed.

“Other people, they know from a very young age like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to get done … and I know that I want to have these marks,’” said Sharp.

Now that spring is here, artists say that they expect a bump in business. And while the winter season sees serious collectors taking advantage of shorter wait times, the warmer weather allows people showing more skin a reason to flash some new ink.

“Summer and spring are always the biggest, and I think it’s just because people are showing more skin,” says Mohl. “It’s almost like they’re priming themselves all winter, working out in the gym … and it’s kind of like a new paint job on a car; people want to get it, and they want something to show.”

As far as tattoo tips are concerned, artists agree that researching a new artist or shop and planning ahead are things that customers should do before booking time in a chair to undergo a lengthy session.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew; I get a lot of people that do that a lot,” Zayas said. “If you want to get a sleeve for your first tattoo, you totally can, but just find a decent artist that is going to work with you and design you a cool custom piece.”

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For Port Jefferson Station tattoo shop, it’s about doing the art the right way

When Ariel Padilla told his parents he was going to open a tattoo shop, they gave him two years to succeed. If he didn’t, he would go back to school and finish his master’s degree in forensic technology.

“In my heart I knew I wasn’t going to fail,” Padilla said.

His heart was right. More than 15 years have passed since he opened his first tattoo parlor in Ozone Park, Queens. Today, Dark Child Tattoo is located about two miles from his high school.

After graduating from Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in 1987, Padilla attended NYIT, where he studied criminal psychology. Artistically inclined, Padilla worked as an airbrush artist at an artist colony in Smithtown. A Long Island tattoo artist told him he was wasting his time and talent and encouraged him to begin tattooing.

Padilla began shadowing tattoo artists in the city and New Jersey, just trying to get in where he could. Most of what he learned was self-taught, which he said was very difficult and something he wouldn’t recommend.

At the time, tattooing wasn’t legal in New York City. In 1961, the city banned the practice after a possible connection between tattooing and a Hepatitis B outbreak. In 1997, the city lifted the ban and began licensing tattoo artists. Padilla said he welcomed the industry regulation.

“Sometimes people look at you … and they think, ‘This is all you had left,’” Padilla said. “No, I had a lot of choices other than this. I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla began working at a tattoo shop and married his wife, Velkys, in 1996. Wanting to be his own boss and having built up a strong client base, he decided to open his own business. The couple compromised — they would move back to Long Island and open a store close to the city.

The shop has moved to numerous locations since. After Ozone Park, a Brentwood location opened, but Padilla moved the business when the area began to change. He set up shop in Uniondale, right around the block from Hofstra University, where his eldest daughter, Caryn, was majoring in Asian Studies and minoring in Japanese. She managed the Uniondale shop while attending school.

“I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla has two other children: Illyana, 15, and Elijah, 12.

Caryn Padilla apprenticed under her father and has been tattooing professionally for six years.

“I started it as a back-up, like as a way to pay for school. … At some point, I fell in love with it,” she said.

Ten years after opening up the first store in Queens, the family opened a second location, in Port Jefferson Station, close to their Miller Place home. While the Uniondale shop was doing well, Padilla closed the location due to the long commute and slowing economy.

Ariel and Caryn Padilla are the only tattoo artists at the Port Jefferson Station store and every employee is a family member. The daughter specializes in tribal tattoos and lettering while the father specializes in fantasy, portraits and full-color works.

“Since I am family, he is hard on me, but I appreciate it because it has helped me grow into a better artist,” Caryn Padilla said about her father.

He also isn’t scared to tell clients that what they think will work, won’t. Deanna Cammarata, a 20-year-old from Holbrook, came in wanting a butterfly on her lower ankle. Padilla sat down with her to explain it couldn’t be so small or the details would be lost. Cammarata’s boyfriend, Jim Fritz, a 27-year-old from Farmingville, heard about the store through a friend.

“I have many, many clients who want me to do it their way … but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way,” Padilla said. “The right way is more important to me. Perfection.”

Gina Daleo, whose family owns Chandler Square Ice Cream in Port Jefferson, has known Ariel Padilla since she was a teenager. He has completed pieces for her and her family. Her daughter, Dominique Godsmark, has a portrait of her late grandfather, Anthony Daleo, tattooed on her shoulder and a fox intertwined with flowers on her side.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Daleo said.

It has been very busy at Dark Child Tattoo, with the waiting room full of new and old customers. Dark Child will be heading to Long Island’s first tattoo convention in a decade at the end of July. The convention will be held at Nassau Coliseum.

“We’re just not a biker tattoo shop,” Velkys Padilla said. “[We want] customers coming back to get something that will represent them for the rest of their lives.”