Baxter's Blog

RED ROCKET VS. LEVITTOWN

Posted in Road Trip Stuff by misterroadtripper on June 11, 2010

THE SAGA OF OF OPENING A  TATTOO SHOP IN LONG ISLAND

Text & Photos by Maury Englander

“The place was so big that we figured we could build our own bowling alley in the basement!” said Mike Bellamy, who, along with his partner, Eric Siuda, talked about the first time they saw the storefront that was to become Red Rocket’s new shop on Long Island. The site on Levittown’s main drag looked perfect. Once a martial arts studio, it boasted a hefty two-thousand-square-foot store plan plus that huge basement. They grabbed it. 

It is nearly a year later as I sat with the two of them, in their newly opened shop. The table between us was covered with papers: architectural drawings, forms, official looking notices and bills—lots and lots of bills. Mike began the saga: “After we signed the lease, we had to apply for an Alteration Permit to do any work on the site.” He pointed to a stack of papers. “The Nassau County Health Department required us to get individual licenses (to work as tattoo artists), and a shop license (to open as a tattoo shop).” More papers, but nothing all that unusual. But then, we were told to apply for a Special Use Permit from the Buildings Department.” That put them into the same category as strip clubs, liquor stores and similar nefarious establishments of dubious virtue, at least in the eyes of the burghers of Nassau County. It also required that a fresh set of architectural plans and more paperwork be submitted to the County.

 We were told to expect that our application would be rejected,” said Mike. Apparently, in Nassau county, it is standard for such applications to be rejected, so they can hold a public hearing in front of their Board Of Appeals. “Before that happens,” said Eric, “we were required to notify everyone within two hundred yards of our location that we were planning on opening a tattoo shop.” He showed me the required architect’s drawing of the neighborhood, with locations of all neighbors, who had to be submitted for the hearing, carefully marked. 

Time passed. Four months after signing their lease, they were still waiting for the hearing to be scheduled. Somewhere along the line, someone in the Buildings Department suggested that they draw up yet another set of plans and apply for another permit. This time they could apply to operate the shop as a retail store with (quote) “secondary income” from tattooing.

“This guy didn’t exactly say ‘don’t do tattooing,’” said Mike, “he just implied that we be low-key about it. Then, according to him, once we got our Alteration Permit, we could submit another application to the Buildings Department, along with yet another set of architect’s drawings, for our Special Use Permit. Our architect thought this was a good plan. He also got paid for another set of drawings.” The paper pile grew, but at least they could start working and paying some of those bills.

Mike (holding Stop Work Order) and Eric.

They went ahead, as advised. They opened a retail store selling T-shirts. The place also did a bit of tattooing. Cool. Well, as it turned out to be not so cool. It didn’t take long for the law to arrive at their doorstep in the form of the local code enforcer. He wrote out a bunch of summonses, stuck a huge Stop Work sticker on the front door and told them to close up the place.

Maybe it’s coincidence, but it just happened that there was a local election coming up and several politicos, up for re-election to their six-figure jobs, just happened to make local headlines with stories of their efforts to protect their constituents from “encroaching evil” in their community.

Be that as it may, Mike and Eric found themselves facing fines, civil charges and further legal mayhem. Plus, no income from their now closed shop. Seven months later they finally had their “public hearing.” With their lawyer, appropriate forms, permits and drawings and an expert witness (a local real estate appraiser who, for a two-thousand-dollar fee) testified to the fact that there were in fact other tattoo shops in the community. Fifteen minutes later, they walked out as legal Levittown business men.

In the end, it was eleven months and nearly seventy thousand dollars in fees and costs before Red Rocket could officially open and begin to legally apply ink to skin of the good citizens of Levittown, Long Island. 

Just when you thought it was safe to open a tattoo shop.

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