Ewing’s first tattoo parlor is welcomed with open arms by local businesses and township officials.
When Michael Clugsten met with Ewing Township officials to win approval for his new business “Brand New Tattoo & Gallery,” he was nervous. He had to convince at least five of the seven board members that his business would be an asset to Ewing.
Helping his cause was the fact that he had completed a 2,500 hour apprenticeship at a respected New Jersey studio which required written and hands-on training. Part of the training involved sterility procedures and safe handling of equipment. By the end of the meeting, the board members were convinced, and his business was approved.
“There are so many stereotypes about tattoo studios and tattoo artists out there,” said Clugsten. “People picture a dark and dingy place with a gruff biker guy [another stereotype] sitting in the corner rasping, “Wadda ya want?” when a customer enters.
But if you visit Clugsten’s business, that’s not what you’ll find. You will enter a warmly lit art gallery and be greeted by the studio manager, a poised and well spoken woman, someone you might expect to encounter at a bank or doctor’s office. The room where the tattoo is applied is spotless, and the hygienic procedures are as strict as the ones used by doctors and dentists, he said. All of the items that touch the skin are single-use and are disposed of after each procedure.
For Clugsten, getting township endorsement was an almost perfect victory. He had won the approval of every board member but not the approval of one business owner who had spoken at the hearing.
The business owner’s concern was that that a tattoo studio would attract an unsavory group of people who would loiter in front of the store causing existing businesses to lose customers.
But Clugsten says those concerns are unfounded. His patrons don’t loiter, and if they wanted to, he would not allow it.
The Flower & Country Store owner Todd Rittenhouse said he is comfortable with the studio.
“He’s displaying local artists. That’s fantastic. As long as they are good neighbors, I’m fine with them being here,” Rittenhouse said.
Mexican Mariachi Grill owner Diana Ramos said the tattoo studio could help other businesses in the area.
“We’re fine about his business being here. People with or without tattoos eat lunch. Maybe the shop will bring some business to us. We wish him good luck,” Ramos said.
Neither Rittenhouse nor Ramos expressed concern over the type of clientele the tattoo studio will attract.
Based on the people who have been visiting his studio, business owners have no reason for concern, Clugsten said. Customers include about an equal number of men and women, ranging from 20 to 50 years old, although he has some customers who are in their 60s, and one woman in her 80s. Clugsten said she came in sitting in a wheelchair and told him that she had always wanted a tattoo. She chose an image of a ladybug which Clugsten tattooed on her wrist. Clugsten said she left smiling saying, “I don’t know why I never had it done before.”
Some of his other clients include an attorney, a dentist, and a police officer. People get tattoos for all sorts of reasons, Clugsten said. One man whose wife had passed away recently had her name tattooed on his arm in her memory.
When people get tattoos today, they are usually looking for an image that has meaning for them, Clugsten said. They want to tell a story about themselves. The story goes wherever the person goes.
“When you create a tattoo on a body, it becomes a traveling piece of art” Clugsten said.
Some of his recent tattoos include portraits of loved ones or pets, a Vietnam memorial, a “Made in America” sign, and characters from “Alice in Wonderland.” Women, and sometimes men, often ask for flowers and butterflies.
That’s not to say that customers only want sentimental or cheerful tattoos. To be sure, skulls and crossbones, skeletons and demons are still popular.
Clugsten says that people coming in for tattoos are almost evenly divided between those who want images that express the “light side” and those who want images that express the “dark side.”
But, says Clugsten, just because someone wants to express the dark side, doesn’t mean that he or she is a bad or dangerous person.
“We all have a dark side. Or at least, we had at one time in our lives,” Clugsten said; then laughed and added, “Well, everyone except my mother.”
The themes of light and dark have always been around, Clugsten said. For a lot of people, it’s important to acknowledge both sides of ourselves, he said. One of his customers is having both of his arms tattooed. On one arm, he is getting images of angels. On another arm, images of skulls and demons. Clugsten sees this as a way of acknowledging that both sides of a person can exist at once.
Studio artist Jason Paul offered that perhaps the draw of scary and dark images is an homage to the idea that warriors from some cultures once had scary images tattooed on their faces to intimidate enemies.
Regardless of the type of image a customer is looking for, Clugsten is ready to help. Using one of the studio’s touch screens, you can view various galleries dedicated to particular themes. Once you find an image that is close to what you want, the artist will collaborate with you to come up with an original piece of art. When applying the tattoo, he uses a machine with a disposable needle which creates tiny holes in the skin and implants pigments.
During the month of May, Clugsten is donating a percentage of his sales to One Simple Wish, a Trenton based organization that grants wishes for foster children. “I really want to help people,” he said. He plans to donate to other charities over the course of the year.
In addition, Clugsten said that 20 percent from the sale of any art sold from his gallery will be donated to a charity or cause. Clugsten plans to rotate his gallery art on a monthly basis.
“We encourage charities to contact us if they would like us to feature their cause.” Clugsten said.
Brand New Tattoo & Gallery, 1509 Parkway Ave, Ewing. (609)882-3098. One the web: brandnewtat2.com/.