That little red building off the highway in Greenbank has a new tenant and, unlike some recent renters who seemed to last there only a matter of days, this one says he’s here to stay.
“I’ve set up very vigorous steps for staying afloat, and we’re already meeting our daily and monthly goals,” said Andrew Schultz, owner and proprietor of Black Mast Tattoo Co. “The community is behind us, and they’re driving us to succeed.”
Nationwide, tattoos have certainly become vogue, if not de rigueur, for those of a certain age, and Whidbey Island is no exception. According to some estimates, as of 2013, 14 percent of all Americans had at least one tattoo. The U.S. had 21,000 tattoo parlors, which collectively took in a total of $1.7 billion that year.
Schultz, 27, a graduate of Coupeville High School, has been tattooing for a number of years and was co-owner of Nite Owl Tattoo in Oak Harbor, he said during a recent visit. After some time living and working in Seattle with his fiancee Jacqueline, his young children Rockford and Scarlett, and his long-haired German shepherd Scully, he moved back to Whidbey recently and on Dec. 12 opened Black Mast, his first solo business.
“I needed a place that’s not too hard to find but where people also aren’t going to hang around all day smoking cigarettes,” Schultz said. “This building seemed perfect.” His grandparents, Mary and Thomas Coupe, are the former longtime owners of the Greenbank Store next door.
The red building has been home to a real estate office, a hot dog restaurant, a Thai restaurant and commercial kitchen, a combined coffee shop and lawn-care service, a seller of large fiberglass animals and a sea-salt production operation.
Moving in consisted of five frenetic days of cleaning and painting. Among other things, he had to remove a large, heavy commercial range. Nearby neighbors brought by honey and eggs as welcome gifts.
Now the handsome multi-room space is neatly arrayed with antiques and objets, all of which the loquacious Schultz said he had a hand in making, buying or refurbishing. Those include a drawer full of snakeskins, several home-made hanging lights and a table he’s making from an old tractor hood. The place has a warm feeling and would be of some interest even to those who care little about tattoos. Plans call for holding art shows there.
Why the shop’s name and the wooden black mast topping the building?
“My fourth great grandfather was the founder of Coupeville, so I wanted something to do with the sea. And making it black gave it an edge.”
Schultz has no formal art training but certainly views tattooing as an art form. He described his style as “very bold American traditional,” adding, “I love, love, love color.” He cited as inspirations Nite Owl’s William Lloyd and Leo Salazar, as well as the artwork and philosophy of nationally know tattoo artist Jeff Gogue.
Like most craftsmen, he venerates his tools. Most of them are hand-made by Frank Salinger, owner of Cascadia Tattoo Machines and a highly respected figure in the industry.
Black Mast’s business thus far has been brisk.
“I already need a desk assistant for when I’m tattooing for four hours and six people walk in and the phone is ringing,” Schultz said.
About 90 percent of his business is local.
Schultz is “pro-tat” and eager to please customers, but he won’t do whatever they ask. No tattoos on fingers “unless you’re older and it won’t affect your work,” he said. No tats on the tongue, eyelids or “other weird places.” And above all, please, no lovers’ names. “That is such a bad luck charm. You may not like me now, but you’ll thank me in 20 years.”
He sees himself as an educator who wants the best design and the best placement for the customer. He urges customers to learn as much as possible about tattoos and tattooing before going under the needle. Then “be sure to eat well and drink enough before coming in — getting tattooed is hard on the body.”
Pricing runs a minimum of $60, which “takes care of quite a bit,” Schultz said. An average session costs about $120. Charges for larger tats, such as a half- or full “sleeve” on the arm, are negotiated before work is undertaken. A full “body suit” could run up to $6,000. Tipping is customary and is often generous, sometimes 50 percent of the fee, he said.
Black Mast plans to bring in guest tattoo artists, who stay for some period and typically split their take with the shop owner. It’s a way to bring in more money and also to learn from other artists while on the job, Schultz said. Making a living in tattoo is possible, he said, but “you must be driven and very client-oriented.”
Nikki Carter, of Clinton, had Schultz write an inspirational quotation on her upper left torso: “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” Her eighth tattoo, it took 15 minutes and cost $80.
“I will only be going to him from now on. We love the feel of his space; it’s super clean and he’s so personable,” Carter said. She said she had bought a gift certificate for her husband’s birthday.