Kingston's True North Tattoo grapples with lockdown uncertainty

'Don't forget about your local small business when we reopen'

Tattoo shops are among many local businesses struggling in this moment.

Over the last year, shutdowns implemented in response to COVID-19 have rocked Ontario businesses. For Wayne Murrill, owner of Kingston’s True North Tattoo, these lockdowns have highlighted the importance of Canadians supporting local businesses.

Murrill, who has been tattooing for the last 27 years, opened True North Tattoo in July 2010. The studio employs Murrill, along with four other artists, and is set to take on another  in June. However, the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have forced the shop to pivot operations.

“The biggest change is operating by appointment only and keeping the front door locked [to prevent walks-ins],” Murrill told The Journal in an interview.

This limited environment is new for True North Tattoo. The shop is usually buzzing with customers and the sound of their artists hard at work.

The stay-at-home orders implemented by the Ontario government have also required True North Tattoo to pause their operations on several occasions. While the initial two lockdowns created a backlog in scheduling appointments, the demand for new appointments has decreased since the third lockdown began on April 8th.

“We are getting less contact from potential customers in this lockdown. The last lockdown, I was getting contacted by people wanting to set stuff up or wanting to set a date for when the lockdown ended,” Murrill said.

“We were getting people contacting us for pricing and we’re still getting that, but it’s decreased from the last shutdown.”

He attributes this notable decrease in business to potential clients’ frustration with the pandemic’s unpredictable nature.

“I think it’s because when people want to book an appointment, people don’t want to book an appointment and put a deposit down for some time in the future that they’re uncertain of.”

Murrill said he can’t fault customers for their newfound hesitation.

“When people are thinking about getting a tattoo, they’re like ‘why am I going to put down a deposit now when they can’t even tell me what date my appointment is for? I’ll just wait until everything is open.’”

The unpredictability of the current lockdown has impacted how True North organizes their own business, too. Murrill was only allowed one preparation day before closing his shop in April. He told The Journal that he has yet to reschedule his current bookings.

“During the first lockdown, I rebooked all of my appointments twice because they extended it. I’m booked three months ahead, so that’s a pain in the ass,” he said. “This time around, I didn’t do that.”

Though a few of the experienced artists working at True North have been compensated for lost tattooing income through various art commissions, Murrill noted how difficult the pandemic has been for younger tattooers just starting their careers.

“Younger artists are struggling more, because they are establishing clientele and building their skills,” he explained.

Despite the lockdown halting business for tattoo shops and challenging local artists, Murrill acknowledged that tattoo studios aren’t the only businesses that have been hurt.

“Tattooing has been adversely affected by this, like most businesses that have been shut down or have been having a hard time. I don’t think in any other way it’s been different for any other industry or trade.”

Murill knows businesses like his own need local support to keep thriving.

“I would ask people to just remember to, once we reopen, support small businesses [like ours] as much as possible.”

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