Downtown Towson’s first tattoo shop, Triple Crown Tattoo, opened its doors last Friday almost a year after the Baltimore County Council passed legislation allowing it.
“We delivered what we said we would,” said Grant Aikin, who owns the shop with his wife, tattoo artist Deirdre Aikin, saying the couple wanted to create a “clean, professional gallery setting.” The loftlike, second-floor space is large, airy and bathed in natural light.
“It doesn’t have to be dingy and weird,” Deirdre Aikin said. “[Tattooing is] an art form, and it should be treated as such.”
“It’s a beautiful facility,” said Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and submitted the legislation amending the county code to allow the shop to open. “I’m very impressed by what they were able to do in that building. It’s a beautiful space.”
Art is central to the combined tattoo studio and gallery space. Deirdre Aikin, an artist trained in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, said she has spent 15 years collecting the art that lines the walls of the shop on the second floor of 501 York Road. “I might have an art problem,” Aikin joked.
On the walls in late February were works inspired by films by Taiwanese artist James Jean, shimmering mandalas by California artist Cryptik, stark illustrations created in Baltimore by artist Mike Giant, and delicate feather photography on handmade Nepalese paper by father-son duo Dennis and Roy Barloga. In the waiting room, customers can peruse cases of jewelry from around the world while looking at walls of posters and prints.
Deirdre Aikin said she wants to spread that love of art to Towson — her dream, she said, is to make downtown Towson an arts district. She hopes to work with a committee that is working on putting public art in the downtown Towson district.
“I really think that they want to have a really kind of bustling, thriving arts community, which also brings people who love creativity, and business will grow around here,” Aikin said, adding later: “When you see a place that’s beautiful and offers mental stimulation, you just feel better about things.”
Aikin said she and her husband, who live in Baltimore, envisioned the shop about two years ago, while she was working as a tattoo artist in Washington, D.C. She said she wanted a job that would let her spend less time commuting and more time with her family, especially her teenage son.
Under the Baltimore County Code, tattoo or body-piercing establishments are restricted to areas zoned industrial, meaning for purposes such as manufacturing, along with other adult stores, like massage parlors and adult entertainment businesses. To allow Triple Crown to open, David Marks passed a bill in the County Council in March 2018 amending the code to allow the Aikins’ specific vision: an above-ground tattoo shop in a space smaller than 3,000 square feet opened in combination with an art gallery.
Aikin hopes to use her gallery as a hub for cultural events, inviting artists from around the world. She also hopes to work with art students from nearby schools to teach them how to work with galleries and show their art, something she said many art students are not taught.
Marks said he expects community groups to use the gallery space for cocktail parties and meetings, and praised the shop for offering college students a “clean, clinical environment” to get tattoos.
Deirdre Aikin said that as a mother, she wants to provide a safe place for young people to get tattoos because she worries about shops that cut corners in Maryland, which she said does not regulate tattooing. She said shops like that can cause infection or give tattoos that customers regret and want to cover up.
The tattoo artists at Triple Crown all completed years-long apprenticeships, Aikin said, and work hard to give tattoos in an ethical way.
“It is an art form, and I think it is a very expressive one,” Aikin said. “It’s personal art. People can express their own individuality on themselves … and I think that’s a person’s right. And I think it’s also important that you do the best job that you can.”