Three Buffalo tattoo parlors aim to please customers, stay in business
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 21:10
With endless options of tattoo parlors, it’s a process picking which shop and which artist are the right fit to fulfill your earning for ink. A tattoo will follow you to the grave and becomes an advertisement for the artist. The body becomes an art exhibit.
Among the many shops in Buffalo, three establishments – in addition to well-known area staples Hand of Doom and RedHouse, which The Spectrum wrote about in 2012 – stood out for our Best of Buffalo issue this year because of their individual styles, environments and efforts toward establishing personal connections with their canvases.
Shop: Sink or Swim
Location: 1040 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda
Phone Number: 716-605-7531
Opened in May 2010 by Dan Whipkey, Sink or Swim was a financial risk at the start. Whipkey named the shop after putting all his savings toward his first location on Oliver Street. He was either going to “sink or swim.”
But the shop is staying afloat.
Sink or Swim is home to three diverse artists. Whipkey has been tattooing for 10 years and specializes in American traditional style; Jay Galvin is well rounded with 12 years of experience; and Keith Kuzara is the newcomer who specializes in new-school and neo-traditional styles, which are bright and fresh.
The new shop on Payne Avenue opened last week, and Whipkey closed the first shop on Oliver. Sink or Swim on Payne has drawn in more customers with a busier and cleaner environment. Whipkey said the move was primarily for the customers’ benefit.
Sink or Swim prides itself on customer satisfaction. Although its prices can be slightly above average, it is to serve customers with better ink.
“We let our work speak for itself,” Whipkey said. “Shopping for tattoos isn’t the same as shopping for the same pair of sneakers. You can get that same pair at another store for $20 cheaper, but with tattoos, you’re sacrificing quality for price.”
The parlor is implementing a discount program for college students with the move. Students who show valid college ID get 20 percent off.
Senior accounting major Rowan Ketchum looks forward to revisiting Keith for his second piece.
“His work is clean, and I’ve been going to him even before he started at Sink or Swim,” Ketchum said.
Location:177 Elmwood Ave.
Cowpok has been voted as Buffalo’s No. 1 spot to be pierced in the community for the last 14 years; it was also nominated for best tattoo shop in Buffalo-weekly Artvoice’s ‘Best of Buffalo.’ The shop has been in business since 1992 and has a loyal following.
“I’ve been to Cowpok for all five of my tattoos,” said Julia Gruspier, a junior economics major. “They were patient with me my first time and have become friendlier as I’ve established a loyalty to them.”
The iconic mascot of a pierced “mad cow” represents Cowpok’s forte in piercing.
Mike Dudik is a traditional tattoo artist, Eric Pele is new school and neo-traditional and Dana Bridenbaker specializes in photo-realism and portraits. The availability of three different styles gives clients more to choose from.
“Each artist is an individual contractor and prices their work as they see fit,” said Anna Beall, one of the piercers. “We like to see customers satisfied, and we see a lot of repeat clients.”
In addition to piercings and tattoos, the shop sells different types of plugs for stretched piercings, like Omerica Organic wood plugs and bone plugs. The quantity is limited, but Cowpok can order for individual customer needs.
Although there are no student discounts for tattoos, piercings are usually $10 off for UB students. Cowpok wants to draw in as many college students as possible.
“It’s important for our customers to feel comfortable in our shop environment,” Beall said. “We want to give them a sterile and carefully crafted tattoo.”
Location:408 Amherst St.
Upstate Ink is another shop that changed locations to provide customers a new feel and a more comfortable environment.
“We moved to this building for convenience factor and to become a better business,” said Cheri McCudden, one of the artists. “A change was needed so we could stay in the Buffalo tattoo industry.”
The new location has separate rooms for each artist, so their clients feel more secure and private – something the old shop lacked.
“Nobody liked the old location, even the owner,” said Sarah Dumais, a sophomore psychology major who has been to Upstate Ink for eight of her 10 tattoos. “Joe Gerardi is a friend of mine, so that makes me a repeat customer. There’s no awkward small talk.”
Gerardi specializes in a traditional style while McCudden prefers working in black and gray. They tailor their styles to fit whatever the customer desires.
Nick Bennett, the owner of Upstate Ink, takes an active role in his shop. He does Laser editing, a process in which tattoos are lightened to make a cover up on the piece easier. This process reduces the time it takes to fully cover up a pre-existing tattoo.
Each artist has his or her own pricing and McCudden believes it’s important to bring in college students. She offers a 10 percent discount with a student ID.
“As an artist, I’m not here to solely make money,” McCudden said. “I want my art to live on a person and for them to wear it proudly.”