The Temple Décor in Kalispell has the basics you would expect to find in any tattoo parlor: black leather chairs; artists dressed in dark clothing and showing little blank skin; posters, drafts and photos of tattoo artwork on the walls and in photo albums. It’s the age of the average customer, however, that may surprise you.
Stereotypes be gone, artists at Temple Décor say: Tattoos aren’t just for rebellious teens, sailors and Harley-Davidson lovers anymore.
“In the past few years, we’ve had a huge influx of older people coming in for tattoos,” tattoo artist Bil Sarno said. “It’s not just associated with auto mechanics and war veterans anymore – it’s doctors, lawyers, grandmas. It just doesn’t have the dirt bag feel anymore.”
Sherry Stewart, 55, came to Temple Décor last week for her first tattoo, a black outline of a grizzly bear paw on the inner-side of her right wrist. She’d been thinking about the design for months, but had made her appointment just that day on the recommendation of a hairdresser.
A Nashville, Tenn., resident, Stewart is a school social worker who has spent her past seven summers in the Flathead Valley.
“I ride motorcycles, so a lot of my friends from that group have them, but my boss and another social worker at the school both have them, too,” she said. “You never used to see it in a professional setting. I think people have become more accepting of personal preferences and lifestyles.”
In the other three artists booths, four more women, all 20-somethings, are also having tattoos done. One of them, Juana Perez, 22, is on her ninth tattoo in the past year-and-a-half. A fan of more traditional “Americana-style” tattoos, she’s having a design with brass knuckles, playing cards and the message “Love Thy Neighbor” added to her already decorated left arm.
A middle-aged couple peruses flipcharts of “flash art,” or pre-designed images in the front of the shop.
In many ways, the mixture of patrons in the shop represents the new – more varied – face of the tattoo industry. In the five years since Darryl Torgerson first opened The Temple Décor on Airport Road, he’s seen tremendous growth in demand. Last February, the business moved to its new location on East Idaho near the Smith’s grocery store and added two new artists.
The growth, Torgerson said, is in part the result of population boom in the valley, but also the result of tattoos becoming more mainstream. “People are seeing them more as a form of personal expression and art – not as acting out,” he said.
While the majority of the business’ customers are still from younger demographics, about 20 to 30 percent of the people who come to Temple Décor seeking tattoos are now over the age of 50. The artists share stories of their older customers like a man, who in celebration of his 45th wedding anniversary, had the name of his wife tattooed across his chest. Wheeler has even tattooed his own grandmother: At age 77, she got her first tattoo, a small rose on her ankle.
“She’s always wanted one but that was at the stage when they were associated with hookers and sailors,” he said. “Her little church ladies didn’t believe it was real.”
The business and its artists have also tried to move away from the historical stereotypes of their trade.
Customers said the artists patiently helped them flesh out ideas, making several drafts and even temporary versions of their art to make sure it was what they wanted. The environment is friendly and clean: Wheeler spends more time sterilizing his instruments and prepping his area than it takes to complete Stewart’s quarter-sized tattoo.
Sarno, who wears dark-rimmed Prada glasses and uses an armrest covered in Louis Vuitton-printed fabric when he tattoos, decorates his station with photos of his fiancée and friends.
“We don’t want people dealing with a scary biker dude up front or afraid they’re going to catch something,” he said. “A big part of them liking their tattoo is making it an enjoyable experience for any type of person.”
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