Myrtle Beach tattoo shop owners spar over where they’re allowed to do business

One area tattoo artist is on a mission to change Myrtle Beach’s zoning regulations regarding where tattoo shops can operate, but a group of business owners are fighting back.

Jessica Fogle, owner of Deathless Cords, a supply company and group of tattoo artists, was met with opposition from local tattoo shop owners when she went before the city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday asserting tattoo shops should be allowed to set up anywhere in the city.

“Clearly the stigma surrounding tattoos has changed drastically in the 14 years since these restrictions were set in place,” Fogle said. “We need to bring the tattoo industry of Myrtle Beach up to pace with other major cities.”

She said the city’s regulations violate the constitution, noting how places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Daytona Beach don’t have the restrictions Myrtle Beach enforces.

After the artform was made legal in South Carolina in 2006, Myrtle Beach enforced zoning for tattoo and piercing shops, limiting them to warehouse manufacturing zones -- criteria that has resulted in nearly a dozen shops opening side-by-side on Seaboard Street and a few in other locations.

Fogle suggested the zoning code be changed to allow tattoo parlors in highway commercial 1, highway commercial 2, mixed use high density and mixed use medium density districts -- zoning designations located along Ocean Boulevard and Kings Highway.

She also submitted a petition with 5,000 signatures from locals and tourists who want to see the laws changed.

“We should be able to take advantage of areas with higher foot traffic and buildings with better curb appeal,” Fogle said. “We are not being given an equal opportunity to succeed financially based on stereotype and theoretical circumstances.”

Fogle, who cited Seaboard Street as being unsafe and dirty, said residents and tourists take their business to Charleston and Wilmington, North Carolina because “they’re turned away by the scene” on Seaboard.

When Planning Member Zeb Thomas suggested Fogle team up with other local tattoo artists to open a storefront in an appropriate area, Fogle said Seaboard Street, and its tattoo shops, lack appeal. Additionally, she wants her future storefront to be an art gallery that’s more “than just a tattoo shop” in a “nice building” where tourists frequent.

Tattoo shop owners in attendance strongly opposed her request.

Defending their shops, owners debunked Fogle’s claims, explaining how they have met all the requirements under the zoning code and have successfully conducted business for years.

“The strict rules has made us a community, and we all get along,” said Chris Lachnicht, owner of Topnotch Tattoos on Seaboard Street. “If this is allowed, every person from all over America can come here and open up a shop.”

Owners asserted that broadening the zoning code could potentially attract corporate shops to the area, subsequently putting the local parlors out of business.

“I’m opposed to any change whatsoever to the current zoning,” said Jeff Cribb, owner of Hero Tattoo on Piedmont Ave. near Seaboard Street in Myrtle Beach. “We’ve all invested financially, emotionally, physically and in every way, and this is detrimental to us. This is what’s keeping us alive.”

Planning Member Don Shanks said the city has spent years trying to make the downtown a family-friendly atmosphere. He agreed that changing the zoning code would result in a proliferation of businesses wanting to open throughout Myrtle Beach.

“The city, obviously in its wisdom in the past, has designated these areas consistent with the constitution,” Shanks said. “It’s a real question here is whether this expansion, as much as it could be, would meet the concept of creating a family-friendly situation.”

Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter on Sept. 17.

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Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.