Tattoo, massage businesses join Phase 2 of Delaware’s reopening

Karma Theory Tattoo and Gallery owner Eddie ‘Lil-E’ Moore works on Norm Smallwood’s tattoo in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — When it comes to getting tattoos, many people are willing to trade a little bit of pain for their own personal enduring pleasure.

Eddie “Lil-E” Moore, owner and tattoo artist at Karma Theory at 1022 Lafferty Lane in Dover, said it has been the tattoo studios and businesses themselves that have had to endure a tremendous amount of discomfort over the past couple of months after being forced to close their doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, tattoo artists, massage therapists, nail salons and other spas were part of a rolling reopening of personal care businesses from around the state Monday, as they got the thumbs-up from Gov. John Carney to open their businesses under restrictions including 30% capacity and service by appointment only.

Mr. Moore didn’t quite understand why tattoo businesses were forced to close, considering all the safety protocols they practice on a daily basis anyway.

As his tattoo business has been closed since March 23 under the governor’s state of emergency for COVID-19, he was more than happy to get back to performing his art this week.

“It’s a blessing to get in here,” Mr. Moore said of his tattoo studio. “When we were shut down, obviously, every family hurts when you can’t make your money. Our biggest fight was (that) we take cross-contamination courses, we take blood pathogen courses, CPR. … Every day, we have to be safe. It’s not just COVID.

“This is our job … to be safe to protect our clients and to protect ourselves.”

Norm Smallwood of New Castle was reclined in the chair at Karma Theory on Tuesday getting some ink artwork done on his left shoulder and arm by Mr. Moore. He said he’d been waiting for his appointment for “quite a while now” and that it almost felt like Christmas.

Karma Theory Tattoo and Gallery owner Eddie ‘Lil-E’ Moore applies tattoo ink on Norm Smallwood’s arm in Dover on Tuesday.

“To be honest, it’s like an expression of who you are in life,” Mr. Smallwood said of tattoos. “I’m into Eastern culture, and Eddie’s work is impeccable. Everybody is different. Some people just want to look a certain way, they want to fit in. It’s the same reason I got into bodybuilding, I guess, because I feel better about myself and like the way I look a little more.”

There’s little doubt that tattoo businesses — which number around 15 or so in the Dover area alone — certainly have some loyal clientele.

‘Scary time’

Mr. Moore is hoping those loyal customers can help him get back on his feet quickly.

“We lost thousands of dollars” during the shutdown, he said. “When you’ve got car payments, a house mortgage, your rent still. … My landlord gave us two months off, but after that, she needed her rent. I get it, she has to survive, too.

“It was a scary time for us, and I’m just finally glad they let us open. It’s under very strict rules. It’s appointment-only, and you really can’t do walk-ins. I don’t have any portfolios out because anything people can touch can potentially be contaminated.”

Mr. Moore said he understands the way many people perceive tattoo shops but insists the reality of the culture is far from what they envision in their minds.

“When you hear ‘tattoos,’ the old stereotype is it’s a biker, you’re in a garage, they’ve got cobwebs on their elbows and teardrops on their eyes,” he said, “But the art of tattooing has gotten so big now, anyone can see they can eat off of any part of our shop. … It’s that clean.”

One of those loyal tattoo aficionados, Charles Woloszyn, posted on Dover’s Walls of Wonder Tattooing Facebook page, “Tattoo shops should be essential (because) that’s how some people cope. It is a stress reliever! Pain is pleasure! Or maybe if we say it’s therapy, they will allow it!”

Michelle Miller said she is a front-line worker in the fight against COVID-19 and wouldn’t mind having a little work done on herself.

“To be honest, it’s like an expression of who you are in life,” Mr. Smallwood said of tattoos.

“I’m a front-line worker, and I would love to get ink work done right now,” she wrote on the Walls of Wonder Tattooing page. “It is used by many as a stress reliever. I am scared about the reopening of the state too quick but all could be done with appointments with businesses like this, no company with the client, no artist in shop unless they have a client, and masks worn by all.”

Massage therapy

When it comes to massage therapy, many people say they enjoy it for stress-release purposes, while others with medical conditions see massage therapists for pain relief. People who need massage therapy to cope with pain have been forced to go two months without proper treatment due to state restrictions in the midst of the coronavirus.

Sue Henry, a massage therapist at Body, Mind and Soul on Camden-Wyoming Avenue in Camden, was also happy to reopen her doors to clients Monday.

She said it’s been a good feeling because her customers are calling her to set up appointments rather than her having to call them.

“I’m very excited,” said Ms. Henry. “What a relief. It’s been pretty crazy. Most of (my clients) are giving me a real workout at this point.”

She said it’s seemingly taken forever to open back up. She finally received an unemployment check just prior to reopening.

“It’s been a combination of things,” she said. “It’s just so nice to see my clients and (be) making money again. It’s been really devastating for my finances.

“But even with coming back, there’s a lot more you have to do. I had to buy a thermometer, and now, it doesn’t work. There is a lot of extra sanitizing we have to do, like clean the bathroom within two hours. I might have one person here that uses the bathroom once every two hours — maybe.”

Gov. Carney said it is important to remain vigilant considering the state’s numbers for the coronavirus have been encouraging over the past week, with no new deaths reported Sunday for the first time in two months.

“As businesses reopen and more Delawareans head back to work, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is still active in Delaware,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Delawareans need to remain vigilant. Keep distance from others outside your household. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Wear a face covering in public settings, and act with a sense of community. This pandemic is not over. Now’s not the time to let up.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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