'More Mainstream': Tattoo Shop Makes Imprint on Downtown SP
Craig Morrison was not well-received by Broad Street landlords while scouting locations in downtown Southern Pines for Valhalla Tattoo and Gallery.
"There was some resistance," said Morrison, a combat controller for the U.S. Air Force who is retiring in January.
But there are no hard feelings, because Morrison believes that the 2,700 square feet of space at 165 E. Pennsylvania Ave. is better suited to grow the business.
"We don't want people to be nervous or intimidated, so this old house with its inviting entrance is great," he said. "We're not a typical tattoo shop. We're going to focus on custom tattooing. So, this location will probably turn out to be way better in the long run."
Morrison wants customers to feel comfortable from the moment they walk through the door, which is why the lobby contains Victorian furniture and an organ made in 1910.
"This place is almost 100 years old, and we want people to feel that vibe," he said.
Morrison, 33, who started tattooing soldiers 18 months ago while stationed overseas, opened Valhalla Tattoo on Oct. 23 after conducting months of market research and also considering locations in Sanford and Spring Lake.
"Southern Pines is such an awesome town," he said. "Tattooing is an art form, so we want to add to the local arts community. We also want to get in touch with artists here to get some of their work hanging in the gallery."
The only art currently on the walls is that of Morrison and Matt Green, who recently closed his tattoo shop in Spring Lake.
"I came to North Carolina from the Gulf Coast four days after Hurricane Katrina," said Green, an Army veteran who has been a tattoo artist for almost two decades. "I'd never tattooed on the East Coast or near an Army base. There's a lot of patriotic goodness here.
"When you're in East L.A., you're not exactly tattooing the best of America."
Tattoos have been associated with culture and lore from ancient art to modern expressionism, and they are becoming more accepted as fewer people think of them as representing deviant behavior.
"It's more mainstream now," Morrison said. "Tattooing is a multi-billion-dollar industry."
A Harris Poll conducted earlier this year found that one in five American adults (21 percent) has at least one tattoo, up from 16 percent and 14 percent in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
Tattoos seem to be more prevalent in the West, where 26 percent of adults have at least one tattoo, and least popular in the South (18 percent).
Women are slightly more likely than men to have a tattoo (23 percent vs. 19 percent), while adults aged 30-39 are most likely to have a tattoo (38 percent).
Green, who served as an apprentice in Biloxi, Miss., said the industry has come a long way in a short time.
"Today, I work with each customer from start to finish on the design they want," he said. "It's not like it was when I started out on the beach doing Tasmanian Devils and Yosemite Sams."
Morrison said the business is named for a tattoo - "Valhalla" - worn by Andy Harvell, a fellow combat controller who was killed in action overseas.
"He was always wanting me to get into tattooing," Morrison said, "so it was just really fitting."
Valhalla is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m., and by appointment on Sunday. Tattoos start at $85.
"We want to give people tattoos that they're proud to wear," Green said. "We're not looking to be a street shop. We want it to be an inviting place. We want people to come in and meet us."
Morrison agreed, saying, "We don't want to create a negative vibe."
Valhalla, which has room for two more tattoo artists, may offer custom signs and body piercing in the future.
"I need a change of pace," Morrison said. "This is a great opportunity to do business in a great town with a lot of great people."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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