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New tattoo shop owner hopes to thrive in East Nokomis

Posted on 25 March 2019 by calvin

The increasingly trendy East Nokomis commercial neighborhood at 34th Ave. and 50th St. is now the home of Nokomis Tattoo, a new higher-end tattoo studio run by Mike Welsh, tattoo name, ‘Metal Mike.’

“In tattooing,” Mike explained, “there is a long and rich history of not using your given name.” But, his given name is on the required paperwork from the Department of Health, his incorporation papers and the purchase agreement for the building now housing the newly established tattoo parlor.

Nokomis Tattoo, 4933 S. 34th Ave., opened Mar. 1, one day after passing the health department inspection. Mike said he was expecting a slow start. “I didn’t think we’d get a walk-in, but in the first hour, a lady who works at a local coffee shop came in for a tattoo.” Other clients soon followed, having seen the sign on the front of the soon-to-be-opened shop.

Photo right: Tattoo artist Allison Pegoraro and tattoo studio owner “Metal Mike” Welsh wait for clients at the entrance of Nokomis Tattoo. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Mike, who now lives in the East Nokomis neighborhood, had grown up in the Twin Cities, leaving in 1998 to start his vocation as a graffiti artist, working as a line cook, and moving from city to city to see the country and practice his craft.

He relocated every year or two, from Louisville to Erie to Columbus, Atlanta to Jacksonville, to mostly economically distressed rust belt and southern cities. His art got him arrested several times. Spray painting property that’s not your own is a felony, and he spent time in jail for it, including 60 days in Detroit. But, after a year, he’d proven himself to the system, and his record was expunged.

Then, when a friend, a tattoo shop owner name Jay Fish offered him a chance for a tattoo apprenticeship in Erie, he took it, seeing it as a way to use his talent and make a good living as well. He stayed at Fish’s tattoo parlor, Ink Assassins, for five years.

In 2010, he ended up back in the Twin Cities. “I didn’t think I would stick around long,” he said. But he found that coming home was a chance to continue to turn his life around.

Getting a tattoo license in Minnesota is not easy. It means jumping through a lot of hoops through the Minnesota Department of Health. These include classes in dealing with bloodborne pathogens like Hep C, HIV, and MERSA, (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and 200 hours of supervised tattooing. Forms for body art establishments include passing a 46-item checklist.

But eight years ago, armed with a Minnesota license, Mike and a business partner, Kyle Skyer, opened up Tiger Rose, a tattoo shop in Northeast Minneapolis, where Mike is still half-owner. Then, last year, he saw an opportunity to open his own shop in East Nokomis where he lives with his schoolteacher wife and two rescue dogs, Oliver, the boxer and Cricket, a pit bull.

A building that had once housed a rather sketchy massage parlor came up for sale, and he took the chance, buying the 1928 building, closing on Jan. 16. He immediately started working on remodeling it. “It needed a lot of work,” he said.

Rather than dank and dark, the new place is clean, bright and airy, with a large front-facing window, elaborate hardwood floors, up-cycled doors and other materials that had been hidden by a previous remodel.

The shop specializes in traditional tattoo styles including lettering, elaborate Japanese and other Asian style art, black and gray designs and, being Minnesota, hockey and sports tattoos. The shop’s artists also do reworks of bad tattoo art.

They welcome walk-ins and Mike expects that half their clientele will come in unannounced. He is booking appointments as well, a month or two ahead.

Other artists are signing on, including Allison Pegoraro and Rachael Rose. “I have a friend coming up from Iowa in the next few months and a friend I like working with who will probably work one day a week,” said Mike.

Pegoraro grew up in a family of artists. Her father, she said, bought both her and her sister tattoo kits. She practiced on friends and then decided to go legit and started looking for an apprenticeship.

Pegoraro already had an art and design background, having studied at the Perpich Center for Arts Education and at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She’d worked at Dean Gallery and created the interactive bison at the Minnesota History Center. She also worked at two other local tattoo studios creating body art.

Pegoraro originally applied to work at Tiger Rose but didn’t get the job. She contacted Mike to see if she could apply at Nokomis Tattoo. “We talked on the phone, and I told her to come and work for two weeks as a try-out. After two days, I knew I’d hire her,” said Mike.

She’d gotten her first tattoo, she admitted, before she was of legal age, stealing her sister’s passport to ‘prove’ that she was 18 years old. It was a doodled a cartoon skull, she said. Five years later she covered it up with an abstract pond and lily pads design. To pay for the repair, she traded cleaning the artist’s house, including an eight-hour freezer defrost. “It had smelt embedded in ice,” she remembered.

Mike’s first tattoo was a pin-up girl. “I thought it was funny,” he said. “But, about half my tattoos have a deep meaning for me, a lot of Japanese art.” He still has some room left for future tattoos, he said, on his back and legs.

If someone comes in with an unusual request, Mike says, like a face tattoo, “I’ll do it after a discussion. I won’t tattoo an 18-year old kid who wants their whole neck done. And, I won’t tattoo genitals.”

“And,” he said, “I won’t do racist tattoos. It’s not worth it. Once you start to cater to that type of clientele, more of them will show up. If you don’t do those kinds of tattoos, that type of people won’t come around.”

Mike said plans to install a sign in his shop, hung alongside framed examples of brightly colored tattoo designs, stating his philosophy about how all people who come in will be treated fairly and with respect. “I’m just waiting to come up with the exact right words.”

Mike is also actively investing in the East Nokomis neighborhood. He is a member of the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association and planning to run for a seat on the Board of Directors this spring. And, he says, he wants to give back to the community in other ways as well.

“I come from a rough upbringing,” he said. “So, we’re giving five percent of our profits to different local charities.” Proceeds from March will go to Bags of Love, a non-profit giving kids in foster home backpacks filled with things they might need, like clothing, toiletries, and toys.

And, on May 29, the shop has invited Memorial Blood Center to park their bloodmobile outside his shop so neighbors and clients can donate. (To donate blood, health rules require a wait of a week after getting a tattoo. Donate first.)

For more information or to make an appointment at Nokomis Tattoo, call 952-999-2181.