By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's one of those classic combinations, like ham on rye or peanut butter and chocolate. We're talking about Deep Ellum and tattoo parlors. The mix of bars and tattoos is a natural, at least to Buzz, who would have to be drunk to the point of comatose before we'd pay some stranger to permanently mark our precious hide with ink-tipped needles.
Still, Buzz was sad to hear that a longtime Deep Ellum fixture, Pair O' Dice Tattoo on Main Street, was closing this week, though not as sad as Richard Stell and Deborah Brody, who have been in Deep Ellum for a decade. "Everything's for sale," Stell says, waving his arm at the collection of stuffed animals that fills the shop's walls. "Got no place to put it."
That became a reality in September, when the couple's landlord, Don Blanton, informed them of the terms of their new lease. Their rent--$1,250 a month when they signed their first five-year lease, $1,500 when they signed their second--would now be $3,500. They were stunned: Most tenants in Deep Ellum were negotiating lower rents. Stell and Brody began looking for a new location in Deep Ellum, and a new landlord.
They'd never had to worry about leaving before. Even when new zoning laws were passed in 1997, which outlawed, among other things, any new tattoo shops, Pair O' Dice and the other tattoo parlors in the neighborhood were grandfathered in via special-use permits (SUPs). But what Stell and Brody didn't realize is that the SUPs go with the building, not the business.
Which means: "If you want to have a tattoo shop down here, the only game in town is to buy somebody else's shop," Stell says. "We didn't get the opportunity to sell our shop, really. Our landlord went into the tattoo business." In fact, Stell and Brody say, Blanton--who did not return calls for comment--went into the tattoo business as soon as the couple rebuffed his new rent proposal. Stell says, "We finally got a meeting with him, and he said, 'I don't know what you're doing back here. I rented that place months ago.'"
"I really thought I was going to end my career here," Stell says. He and his wife are going to work at Fine Line Tattoo in Garland. "My son Cameron is 12. He's been building tattoo machines since he was 10. He tattoos bananas and things, oranges. I thought he would start here."