The Tempe City Council on Thursday blocked a tattoo studio from opening, unanimously backing a neighborhood group's efforts to change the look and reputation of a stretch of Scottsdale Road.
It's a fight that's increasingly common, pitting old-school impressions of seedy tattoo parlors catering to a low-class clientele against the current, widespread acceptance of permanent body art by young people and others, regardless of class.
The council's move came at the urging of a community group that says it wants to upgrade Tempe's leg of Scottsdale Road north of Town Lake. advertisement?'a
The North Tempe Neighborhood Association has loudly objected to several businesses that have moved into the corridor: check-cashing stores, adult shops and a strip club.
This summer and fall, Tom and Elizabeth Preston tried to open Body Accents Tattoo and Piercing Studio inside Union Plaza, one of the several strip malls that line Scottsdale Road. Neighbors rallied to keep the parlor out.
"It's going to look like another skid row if we let this kind of business come in," said Nancy Hickman, who owns Hickman Plumbing, next to the proposed Body Accents location.
"I'm ashamed," she added, noting the lingerie and liquor stores already in the plaza. "It's going to look like Van Buren pretty soon."
A Tempe hearing officer had already awarded a use permit to the Prestons in June, and the neighborhood association appealed that decision to Tempe's Development Review Commission. The board went with the Prestons, voting 4-3 to allow Body Accents to open. On Thursday night, the City Council had the final say and went the other direction.
The Prestons and their attorney argued that they are meticulous when it comes to health standards and have had no police or patron complaints at Virtual Reality Tattoos, their Mesa shop. Tom Preston also said he is involved with starting up the Arizona Tattoo and Piercing Association, which is working to implement statewide health standards for tattoo studios because there aren't any now.
But the council eventually sided with the neighbors in a definitive 7-0 vote, agreeing that allowing a tattoo shop into north Tempe would detract from revitalization efforts. The move will, for now, keep Body Accents from opening.
"They are basing this on preconceived notions on how tattoo studios used to be 20 or 30 years ago, that it's a thing for bikers," Preston said. "It's not like that anymore. It's definitely more mainstream. . . . We think what they did was unjust."
Preston said he and his wife are considering an appeal to Maricopa County Superior Court or suing to recoup the estimated $18,000 they have put into the business in the form of paint, drywall, equipment and rent deposits.
Meanwhile, North Tempe Neighborhood Association members were elated and exchanging hugs after the hearing.
"I'm thrilled that it looks like we can go forward, cleaning up Scottsdale Road," Hickman said.
"I didn't want to have to move my business, but you see all the junk and you know we have to turn the area around."