Shady, tree-lined Bonita Avenue feels tense, straddling the divide between the working and upper middle classes that both call it home. Just off the eclectic strip of shops, restaurants and bars on North Henderson Avenue, the street stretches along the outer edges of Dallas' Vickery Place neighborhood, where it's not unusual to find a 20-year-old Honda hatchback parked next to a shiny new import SUV. The street's a border between the upscale area and eastern Dallas, where just last week Officer Brian Jackson was shot and killed responding to a domestic violence call. Jackson died just blocks from Bonita, where fully restored pre-Depression homes stand alongside an aging two-story apartment complex that has seen better days. A few blocks down, one home is valued at around $400,000, while another barely breaks the $50,000 mark, rated as "unsound" by the Dallas Central Appraisal District. And now, a new business on the street is threatening to further complicate the area's identity crisis.
Depending on who's doing the talking, Liberty Tattoos will either take its place among other edgy commercial outlets like La Mariposa, which sells folk items from Mexico, and bars like the Old Monk, or become a blight on the neighborhood, sending Vickery Place spiraling into disarray. When Adrian Evans, Liberty Tattoos' owner, rented the commercially zoned house at 5211 Bonita, he thought neighbors would appreciate the nearly $30,000 he would eventually spend on renovations. But concerned neighbors have made calls to City Hall and sent impassioned letters to Realtors and the property's owner, a 91-year-old woman, in hopes of evicting Evans, whose tattooed hands and arms are an immediate indicator of his profession. The shop owner even called the police when one neighbor came by the unfinished tattoo parlor for a shouting match. Then, after Evans filed his report, the responding officer asked him what could be done about an old, fudged tattoo. It was an encouraging endorsement for Evans' shop, but the neighbors have no intention of letting the Liberty Tattoos open without a fight.
"It's going to bring down the neighborhood," says Danny Campbell, who bought his Bonita home five years ago. He wants a faster fix than what the city told him: Getting the commercial zoning change could take months, and a petition would have to be signed by other neighbors. Campbell is adamant about getting Evans out as soon as possible. "I don't want the first house I see on my street to be a tattoo parlor."
Campbell fears the shop's clientele and late hours will disrupt the quiet of his street while bringing the property value down. But Evans and his landlord's representative, Steve Gay, say some neighbors' concerns have become something closer to harassment. Multiple phone calls came in daily in the first weeks after Evans signed his lease, and a letter to the original owner of the property, Lillian Yaffe, disturbed the elderly woman considerably.
"It upset her and made her worry," says Gay, Yaffe's son-in-law. Gay says the letter, which came on Vickery Place Neighborhood Association letterhead, was civil enough, but needless because Yaffe doesn't deal directly with the property. "It just created more effort to settle her down. This poor little old lady doesn't need the stress."
The house was zoned commercial more than 40 years ago because of the Yaffe family's pet store. Evans leased the property in September and believes the neighbors' fears of rowdy visitors and noisy nights are unfounded. He says he plans to close the shop at midnight on weekends and earlier on weeknights.
"[The neighbors] had a preconceived notion of a tattoo shop as this place with bikers pissing in the yard and drinking beer," Evans says. Those notions turned into frequent phone calls, which often turned ugly for both sides. Evans admits to getting "pretty ruthless" with neighbors like Campbell, who showed up at the shop October 26 to give Evans a piece of his mind. After exchanging angry words, Evans called the police. The report, filed afterward, presents a foreboding narrative.
"[Campbell] insisted that he will further lobby against [Evans'] business," reads the report, "and that the police may be needed in the future." The responding officer, who asked that his name not be published, admits to then asking Evans to touch up an old bulldog tattoo.
"I got one back in college," says the officer, "and wanted to see what he could do about it. I do plan on going back once [Evans' shop] opens." The officer's tattoo, say Evans and Gay, is a prime example of why Vickery Place residents don't need to be worried about shady characters infiltrating their neighborhood.
"Attitudes [about tattoos] have changed," says Gay, who chose to rent to Evans over several palm readers who wanted the house. Evans has been tattooing for more than 15 years and says many of his clients are firemen, police officers and business people. He believes the real focus ought to be on the area's crime rate.
"I'm the least of [the neighborhood's] problems," says Evans. "There's a house across the street with gang members outside all the time. It's already a crappy neighborhood."
Danny Campbell admits that his own home has been burglarized three times. "But that's not going to push me out," he says. "This tattoo place will." Other Bonita neighbors like Marilynn Landon think a tattoo parlor just isn't right for the area.
"This is a neighborhood," says Landon, who practices family law. "It's not Deep Ellum. I'm really concerned that it's in a house in a residential area." But the mix of commercial and residential zones is a common aspect of Vickery Place and changing zones now could be a challenge. Rosa Gallegos, assistant to the area's city council member, Pauline Medrano, says that's the only option.
"That whole area is going to be tricky," says Gallegos. "They won't do like house 'A' is residential, house 'B' is commercial, house 'C' is residential." Eric LeBlanc, president of the Vickery Place Neighborhood Association, which represents about 1,400 residents, admits that there's little they can do. Not that they didn't try.
"The tattoo parlor has a right to be there," LeBlanc says. "Had it been a zoning issue that we could have fought, we would have fought it."
For now, it's up to residents to file paperwork and petitions to get the commercial zoning changed. Until that happens, Evans says he'll have the doors of Liberty Tattoos open by mid-December. Gay thinks the controversy will die down once the parlor opens and neighbors start to see the shop as another part of the area's diversity.
"We didn't feel like here we were putting a tattoo parlor in next to a convent," Gay says. But Campbell isn't buying it, eclectic neighborhood or not.
"You can't dress up a pig and call it a princess," says Campbell. "It's still a pig."
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