By: John Kubal, The Brookings Register
BROOKINGS – Lucky Eagle Tattoo Company is now open for business at 408 Main Ave. in downtown Brookings.
“It’s very Americana, traditional, classy and patriotic – and lucky. It’s American,” said Josh Birrittieri, 38, one of a trio of owners, explaining the monicker for the new ink shop. The other owners are Dustin Eckman and Danielle Garcia.
Birrittieri grew up in San Antonio, where his father was stationed at Kelly Air Force Base (now Kelly Field Annex, a subordinate command of Joint Base San Antonio). His mother played a key role in his becoming a tattoo artist, also known in the trade as a “tattooist” or “tattooer.”
“My mom told me to quit skateboarding and get a job,” Birrittieri explained. “She had a botched makeup job. She had permanent cosmetics done and they got too close to the eye duct and it blew out. She had a gray area under her eye from it being too close to the tear duct.
“She said, ‘You could do this. Why don’t you go and I’ll pay for it.’ So she paid for me to take some tattoo courses. I started doing makeup, permanent cosmetics.”
He later worked in Los Angeles as a designer for Neiman-Marcus. He had a small crew, and one member knew Birrittieri was a tattoo artist. At the time Birrittieri was dating a banker whose family lived in Sioux Falls. He took up tattooing once again and moved with his girlfriend to Sioux Falls. Now he and his partners are settled in Brookings and business is good.
Welcomes health inspections
Upon setting up shop in Brookings, Birrittieri was surprised to find there are no state requirements for opening and operating a tattoo shop. Cities that have established their own regulations include Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Aberdeen.
He would like to see “some type of health inspection” and would welcome it at Lucky Eagle.
“People need to know that there is no health inspection in Brookings for tattoos,” Birrittieri said. “Realistically speaking anybody can open a shop on the street and potentially ruin the industry for people like us.” That gives him cause for concern.
“Most people don’t know anything about what goes on behind the doors, really,” he explained. “They come in thinking I’m just going to get a butterfly tattoo.
“But is your artist qualified to do it? Have you looked at their portfolio? If you look at their station and there’s ink all over the bottles, chances are they touched their inks when they’re tattooing.”
He noted that supplies used in tattooing are sterilized by using a steam autoclave.
No tattoos while intoxicated
Standard cost charged by an American tattooist is $100 an hour, Birrittieri said. Minimum cost for any tattoo is $50.
“To do a sterile tattoo costs us about $30, between disposable needles, getting rid of the hazardous materials when we’re done, things like that all add up,” he explained.
Lucky Eagle has been open for about a month. Standard business hours are still to be determined. For now the shop is open noon to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
“Once we know what we’re dealing with here, then we’ll establish set hours,” Birrittieri said. “I don’t want to stay open past 8 (p.m.), because of being on the strip with all the bars. We don’t want to tattoo drunks.”
“We want to limit the amount of those type of people coming in,” Eckman added. “Not that we have any problems with people that drink.” But they won’t be getting tattooed at Lucky Eagle.
“We’re just trying to keep a good, solid backbone, do things proper,” Birrittieri said. “Good goal.”
No tattoo schools in SD
“I started dabbling in 2003,” Birrittieri said of his entry in tattooing. “But I didn’t go professional until about four years ago.”
Eckman is 30. He also started out by “dabbling” in tattooing about 2005, and “got to doing it professionally probably about five or six years ago.”
He explained that there are tattooing schools in the United States but none in South Dakota.
“I suppose the easiest way and the most common route that most people take on getting to be a professional tattoo artist is to do an apprenticeship,” he explained. “It usually takes about two years to be fully apprenticed.”
Garcia, 21, from Tucson, Arizona, is a newcomer to tattooing, having started about eight months ago. “I started off with Josh,” she said. “No one wanted to teach me, no one wanted to get me into it. But then I became good friends with Josh.
“I guess he saw something in me. He handed me a machine and told me to try it out. It just kind of came to me. I come from a long line of artists in my family.
“My dad does murals and artificial landscaping. He does a lot of work for Universal Studios. He’s done work in movies, and for Sea World aquariums and things like that.”
Tattoo a commitment
Asked about the fears and concerns people have about getting tattoos, Birrittieri said, “They’re permanent. That’s the big step. It’s a commitment. And generally, if you’re not happy with the work, you have to live with it.”
He added that anyone planning a tattoo should check out different artists “and look at who’s best suited for what you want. And last but not least, ensure that it’s a good sterile environment where you’re getting tattooed.”
He said he’s had a lot of clients – and 80 percent of them are women – return for additional tattoos.
While Lucky Eagle has yet to establish a local regular clientele, Birrittieri said they have had plenty of clients travel to Brookings for tattoos.
“We do about five conventions a year,” he said. “We tattoo in the surrounding states and those clients are happy with our work, so they commute from Fargo, Bismarck, Rapid City. They all come here.”
And the trio do want to attract new local clients in the Brookings area.
“We want to grow in the community,” he said. “That’s our goal, to bring something to the table that’s worth having here and to be a positive energy for the community and for ourselves.”
The South Dakota cities that have tattoo regulations set the age limit at 16 for getting a tattoo. However, Birrittieri said, “We try not to do anybody under the age of 18. You’re too young to know what you want to live with; and this is where the regret comes in.”
The tools of tattooing have come long way, beginning in the 1990s. Birrittieri noted that the inks and needles were greatly improved. And then about 2005, television shows “exposed people to tattooing on a better level.”
“It put it in the house, in the living room,” he explained. “When you turn on the TV, it was in front of you. And that was kind of the birth of us really making and having a career.”
Contact John Kubal at email@example.com.