An inkling of growth?

Eric Catalano

A local business owner is looking to find a second venue for his tattoo studio but has run into a number of hurdles as he tries to find a location that’s right for him.

Eric Catalano owns and operates Eternal Ink Tattoo Studio in Hecker, which was acquired shortly after an unsuccessful bid to get one opened in his hometown of Waterloo more than a decade ago.

Over the last few months, Catalano has been pursuing a new shop in Millstadt, though he said he recently decided against opening at the location he’d been considering as he felt the rent was too high and he’d prefer to simply own a building himself.

Catalano moved to Waterloo in 1989 when he was 8, and his family has continued to stay local, with his father serving as a dentist in town, his mother having retired as a special education teacher and his siblings also owning businesses in the city.

After high school, Catalano briefly attended college but primarily went into a sales job which he stuck with for several years.

At some point, as Catalano described it, he had a roommate who was a tattoo artist himself, and it was with him Catalano found he had a talent and passion for the trade.

“Basically I was just kinda self-taught,” Catalano said. “I just kind of taught myself how to do it. I had a roommate a long time ago that was a tattoo artist, and he kinda rubbed off on me, I guess. I practiced with him for fun, and then we both found out I was kinda good at it.”

In the late 2000s and into 2010, Catalano pushed to open a tattoo parlor in downtown Waterloo but could not receive a special city zoning amendment, required as City of Waterloo code didn’t allow the operation of such businesses.

Currently, Waterloo zoning code requires tattoo and/or body piercing establishments to acquire a special use permit “if located not nearer than 300 feet from a residential zoned district and/or the property line of a residence of any kind, school, church or daycare center.”

After the city declined – following a meeting in which roughly 100 members of Catalano’s church came out in support of him and the prospective business – he acquired the current Hecker location thanks to his friend and contractor Myron Neff.

Catalano said that in the years Eternal Ink has operated in Hecker, his business has been tremendously successful.

The thing Catalano said really put them on the map was offering free breast cancer paramedical tattoos – body art meant to cover surgery scars.

Catalano also pointed to the studio’s and his personal achievements at a tattoo convention in St. Louis.

“I think a mixture between just doing award-winning regular tattoos and then mixing that with free paramedical tattoos has just kinda made the shop really thrive,” Catalano said.

He added, however, that even as the studio has seen great success in the small community of Hecker, it likely would have been able to grow even more if he had been able to follow his original plans.

“I think that we would have been successful anywhere because of the way that we tattoo and how good it is, and social media being the way it is these days, it’s easy to get people to travel to you,” Catalano said. “But I do feel being placed into a city, especially my hometown, would have been probably better.”

This has seemingly been the basis for Catalano’s push for a new location.

His bid for a shop in Millstadt proved fruitful, with him acquiring necessary approval from that village even as he ultimately decided against opening there.

Catalano said he has recently reached out about the possibility of opening a location in Columbia, which he said could be a possibility provided the shop was on the outskirts of town.

He also mentioned that he would still be happy to find a place for his studio in Waterloo – though an ordinance Catalano said was enacted following the 2010 business bid would seem to be a major hurdle.

“We’re wanting to move to Waterloo, but it’s just they’ve almost made it impossible with the language of the code,” Catalano said.

On top of the special use permit zoning requirement for tattoo and body piercing establishments, Chapter 7 Article VII of the Waterloo ordinance code outlines various regulations specifically pertaining to such businesses.

One notable part of the code is that individuals simply looking to perform tattooing – such as those artists employed by a tattoo studio – would need to apply for a permit with the city clerk.

As part of this permit process, Waterloo’s chief of police would “conduct an investigation into the applicant’s moral character and personal and criminal history.” The police chief could also require a personal interview of the applicant at their discretion.

Another item in the code Catalano expressed issue with allows the police department and code administrator to randomly inspect the establishment “at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner” to ensure that provisions of the article are being complied with.

He said that such rules specifically pertaining to tattoo parlors aren’t typical when it comes to city code.

“Being a private business, it just seems almost a little bit crazy,” Catalano said. “Discriminative, a little prejudiced. It just seems like a weird, kind of a targeted thing.”

Ultimately, any future expansion prospects for Eternal Ink are rather unclear. Catalano noted that a potential expansion could be a full move if he finds a building in a nearby community like Waterloo or an additional location if he purchases a building further from his current location.

Waterloo Mayor Stan Darter offered a brief comment on the situation, noting he was unfamiliar with the previously mentioned regulations in the ordinance since that was before his time as an alderman or mayor.

Regarding the possibility of a tattoo parlor in the city, Darter said he would be unable to answer any questions for certain without Catalano formally approaching the city.

For more information on Eternal Ink, call 618-719-3273 or email eternalinktattoostudio@gmail.com.

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Andrew Unverferth

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