SAUGUS — There’s a stink over bringing ink to Saugus Center.
A tattoo artist’s plans to open his own shop in town have been brought to a halt because of concerns over the image the business would create for Saugus.
Sophath Phing, 33, of Lynn, has been working in the tattoo industry for more than a decade and has spent the past six years working in someone else’s shop. With dreams to open a shop closer to home, he found a space on Central Street, in a plaza shared by a nail studio, pizza place, and hair salon.
“I like Saugus and I want to open a business here,” said Phing. “It’s only seven minutes away from my daughter and sons’ school and I want to spend more time with my family.”
The Board of Selectmen denied his request for a special permit with three members opposed and Selectmen Jeff Cicolini and Mark Mitchell in support of the business.
Pearson Street resident Charles McKenna said the business didn’t fit with the existing atmosphere of the neighborhood and he was worried about how it would affect the town’s children.
“It does not fit with the hometown nature of Saugus Center,” said McKenna. “This is an undue influence on very impressionable minds. It is an invasive procedure. It involves blood. It involves needles. We’ve got enough needles around on the sidewalk in our town. It involves life-changing alterations to the body. I do not believe it fits the direction we want to go in with our town.”
More than 50 letters of support were sent from residents to the Board of Selectmen prior to Wednesday night’s meeting after Phing and his family went door to door introducing themselves. Cicolini, who abruptly excused himself from the meeting following the hearing, said he received 13 phone calls in support of the new business and one in opposition. As someone who has several tattoos and considers himself a professional, he said there’s a stigma behind tattoos, that shouldn’t exist anymore.
“I don’t understand why we’re so rigid and so worried about political backlash,” said Cicolini.“We’re making a huge mistake. We have 51 people who signed off and because a couple of people say it’s not the right location — how do we decide? What is our role as the Board of Selectmen?”
Cicolini said he believes many people who do not have tattoos have misconceptions about what goes on in a tattoo parlor. He told his fellow board members there would not be blood dripping down people’s arms and needles thrown askew when someone walked by and looked in the window.
“It would probably be the nicest looking facade in Saugus Center,” he said.
Mitchell echoed his sentiment, adding that the town shouldn’t be turning away small businesses. He questioned why it was acceptable for children to walk past a liquor store or convenience store that sells tobacco, but not a tattoo shop.
“This is what we want,” he said. “We want businesses to prosper in Saugus.”
Chairwoman Debra Panetta said she voted against the shop because she received several calls from residents and business owners in the area.
“They expressed their concerns about a tattoo parlor in Saugus Center,” Panetta said. ” The location is in a residential neighborhood, where I believe this type of business would be better suited for Route 1.”
Among supporters who spoke on behalf of the shop was military veteran Jonathan Reynoso, who got his first tattoo from Phing in memory of fallen troops. Prior to the decision, Reynoso said, as a first generation American, he was excited to see another first generation American put himself out there and attempt to open a business in pursuit of the American dream.
“It’s mind boggling,” said Reynoso. “People are talking about not wanting their kids to pass by it. How about teach your kids about what tattoos are.”