From the ancient civilizations in Egypt to today’s musicians, celebrities and “average-Joe” neighbors, tattoos have “served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs” and more, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
Currently, tattoo shops and other body art businesses are classified as “adult entertainment” under the current code in Forsyth County.
While tattoo shops and other body art businesses are categorized alongside adult theaters, adult hotels and other “no-nasties,” the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners recently discussed the possibility of removing tattoo shops and body art businesses from the “adult entertainment” list, turning the classification into something akin to a “cosmetic” or “personal service.”
Since the tattoo shops are also not allowed within the city of Cumming, which city planning and zoning director Scott Morgan said, would take amending the city’s zoning ordinance to change, there are no tattoo shops in Forsyth County, meaning artists from the county have had to open locations in Hall, Dawson, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties.
Dave Putman, a Forsyth County resident and owner of Lake Pointe Tattoo in Hall County, said that he had originally hoped to open his shop in Forsyth but received push back.
“I was kind of told that talking to the county about opening a tattoo shop would be a lost cause,” Putman said. “So, after going around and around with the city, I just went outside the county and tried to get as close to home as I could.”
He also tried to get a conditional-use permit to operate his business in city of Cumming and said the process to obtain a permit and a business license was “a little tricky.”
“Every time I would contact someone, they [said I need to] ‘talk to this person instead,’” Putman said. “It was almost like a wild goose chase.”
Putman said that while he met with the city’s planning commission, it “didn’t really seem like people were that interested in the [tattoo shop].”
“You don’t want to fight to be somewhere you’re not wanted,” Putman said. “Everyone was nice that I talked to, but there wasn’t clarity on whether they wanted tattoo shops in the city or not.”
Putman, who has been a tattoo artist for 10 years in other counties, said that he’s always enjoyed the art form, from getting tattoos at the age of 18 to looking at “cool designs” to apprenticing for his own artist’s license.
“Tattooing has been around forever — it’s like one of the oldest art forms, and people have been doing it for so long,” Putman said. “Which is why I think it’s so interesting that it’s not allowed in certain places.”
“When you talk to someone, nine out of 10 times, they don’t know there’s no tattoo shops in Forsyth County. They’re always like, ‘What? No, there’s got to be one,’” he said. “It’s like surprising to them —even to people from Forsyth County.”
Putman opened his shop over the summer after picking a location that was “as close to home as I could [get].” His shop is about one mile inside the Hall County line off Browns Bridge Road.
Putman said that he “might possibly” consider opening a shop in Forsyth County after the ordinance is amended, but “I’m really just happy where I am right now.”
“I don’t know; I really kind of dig it here [in Hall County],” Putman said. “Everybody’s really nice and cool around here.”
“It’s just been so much work getting in here, I don’t want to throw that all away,” he said.
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Mike Cummings, Forsyth County resident and owner of Inksomnia Tattoo in Fulton County, shared similar sentiments.
“I would absolutely not bring my business to Forsyth County; that ship sailed a long time ago,” Cummings said. “I’ve been [in Fulton] for 16 years and I’ve got too much time and money invested here.”
Cummings said that 16 years ago, he had “some trouble” applying for a permit and a business license to own and operate a tattoo shop in Forsyth County.
He said he was able to find a location north of Hammonds Crossing on Keith Bridge Road and had talked to the landlord of the building and signed a lease but said the day before he was going to get his business license, the landlord called.
“[The landlord] said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. The county just rezoned my building,’” Cummings said. “That’s the dirty games [Forsyth County] played; they acted like I was some sort of pariah. But I’ve never had any issues at my business.”
Since opening his shop less than two miles away from the Forsyth County line on Jones Bridge Road, Cummings said that he’s had “people fly in even from overseas” to get tattooed by him and his artists.
“All I can do is speak for myself and the people that I know, and I don’t know of any crime that we’ve committed in the tattoo industry in metro Atlanta,” Cummings said. “I don’t see any increase in crime at all."
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“I think that the people who are against tattoos are obviously people who just don’t like tattoos or maybe have that old-school mentality that only bikers and gangsters get tattoos,” he said. “I’ve tattooed doctors, lawyers, police officers, everybody — all walks of life. It’s a very common thing now.”
Similarly, Putman said he believed that tattoo shops and body art in general could be “really universal.”
“I think that tattoo shops can be such an awesome spot to collect cultural knowledge from all over the world,” Putman said. “Tattoos are really universal; you can find common ground with anyone to an extent. It’s just a super vast, enriching service.”
During a work session on Tuesday, Nov. 23, District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson opened the discussion of possibly amending Ordinance 85 to start allowing tattoo shops and other body art businesses in the county.
The issue will be discussed again at a future work session.
“Eventually, Forsyth County’s going to need to get with the times,” Cummings said. “Tattoo shops aren’t going to hurt the county; I think it’ll be helpful for the county. It’s good tax revenue and is a service people are asking for.”
“Forsyth County’s got to grow up and understand that the world changes and so do peoples’ views on things,” he said. “You just have to move forward.”
Inksomnia Tattoo is at 11950 Jones Bridge Road, Alpharetta. For more information about Cummings and his team of artists, visit www.inksomniatattoos.com or check them out on Facebook at Inksomnia Tattoo.