- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Ina Vigilato moved from Los Angeles to Lancaster last year, to work as a tattoo artist.

People thought that was a little wacky. Why would she leave the hometown of the popular TV reality show “LA Ink,” with its edgy hip vibe, for a small city set in the midst of the fertile farmlands of southcentral Pennsylvania?

Turns out Vigilato was attracted to Lancaster’s own hip vibe, one that has led to an explosion of tattoo shops here in the past decade.

The city is home to 16 shops, quadruple the number here a decade ago and more than twice as many as any other single city in the region.

Local tattoo artists say the proliferation of shops here is because of a number of factors, including the city’s artistic atmosphere and the entrepreneurial spirit of shop owners.

Vigilato had worked here before she went to the West Coast, and it was the city’s atmosphere that made her want to return.

“It was easy for me to come back because people here were incredibly creative and unique,” says Vigilato, 36, who has been tattooing for 13 years and works out of a private studio at 237 N. Prince St. “The East Coast holds it down, in my opinion, hugely.

“I’m not putting down the West Coast but I’ve traveled my whole life, and of every place I’ve ever been, Lancaster - I’ve just loved seeing it grow and thrive.”

Shops drawn to Lancaster

As the city’s health officer, Kim Wissler has been in and out of tattoo shops during the growth of the industry in Lancaster. It was Wissler who spearheaded the regulations, adopted in 2007, that obligate artists to be licensed, have blood-borne pathogen training and hepatitis B immunizations, among other requirements.

She said the regulations created a professional atmosphere, one that attracts customers to the tattoo shops, where a tattoo can cost anywhere from about $50 to thousands of dollars.

“Lancaster has become more of a hub,” Wissler said, adding that the number of shops keeps the prices competitive, another draw for customers.

Jordan Hilt, 28, of Lancaster, recently was in Vigilato’s studio, where she began creating a curling nautilus shell on his calf.

Hilt has more than 20 tattoos, many he got when he was younger. This time, he wanted to take his time, think about what he wanted and find an artist he admired. He saw Vigilato’s work on social media, an advertising technique that also has helped fuel the increase of shops here.

Steve Lowery has been in the tattoo business during its evolution in Lancaster. The owner of Transcending Flesh at 118 W. Chestnut St., he has been working in Lancaster for 18 years.

Part of a renaissance

He thinks the growth parallels the city’s growth in other areas.

“Lancaster is experiencing a renaissance with all the galleries and the amount of artists, their influx into the area,” he says.

Shop space is affordable in the city, he says. And the caliber of work you can find in Lancaster is high, he adds, drawing customers that range in age from 18 to 78 in age to his shop.

Clients’ expectations - fueled by reality shows such as “LA Ink” - are high too, he says.

Chris Hall, owner of Skintonz at 1027 Dillerville Road, is another long-time artist, working here about 18 years and running his own shop for the last two.

He agrees more customers are looking for high-caliber, custom work from artists, who need to have talent to survive in the competitive market here.

“If you can’t draw, don’t bother,” he said, of opening a business.

Matt Mellinger is one of the newbies in Lancaster. Just 25, he opened his business, The Dark Horse, 406 N. Queen St., six months ago, after working in another shop in northern Lancaster County.

“I was going to try to make my own little niche,” he said, noting every artist has his or her own style.

Hall, for example, does biomechanical or bio-organic tattoos, an abstract style of work that flows with the patron’s body. Vigilato enjoys doing larger-scale work with elements of nature, including florals and seashells.

Mellinger says he likes to do lettering and cartoon-type illustrations, or new school tattoos.

Art attracts art

He agrees Lancaster’s art scene attracts tattoo artists. He’s been surprised at just how many there are, noting two other tattoo artists happened to live in the same block as his shop when he first opened.

He and some other artists here think the tattoo market has probably reached its saturation point in the city. Who survives will depend on the quality of work and the demand, artists say.

For now, with the arrival of spring, shops are seeing an increase in customers who know warm weather means they soon will be able to display more skin.

“The phone is ringing,” Mellinger says. “People want stuff to show off.”

Vigilato said artists can live their dreams in Lancaster, no matter if they create tattoos or cook in a restaurant.

“There’s always a struggle being an artist and making a living off of it, but Lancaster completely supports everything about an artist’s life,” she said.

Lancaster unites like-minded people in a beautiful place with great architecture and natural beauty, she said, which is a recipe for creativity.

“It will always grow,” she said. “It will always change. You’re changing every day, as long as you are open to that as an artist.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1HqJRax

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Information from: LNP, https://lancasteronline.com

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