Trouble in Virginia City, or the saga of the town's first tattoo parlor

VIRGINIA CITY -To tattoo, or not to tattoo?

That's the question for Storey County commissioners today as Reno businessmen Robert Michels and Tom Oki seek to put a tattoo parlor on C Street.

The parlor would be located in the old Fire House Restaurant building just south of the Presbyterian Church.

County comissioners have expressed concerns about health risks, and Storey County Superintendent of Schools Henry Kilmer objects to the parlor's proximity to the school.

In addition, some Virginia City business owners say it doesn't fit with the historic character of the town.

"We have to listen to the people we represent," said Commission chairman Greg "Bum" Hess, who agreed the tattoo parlor didn't seem to fit.

"I think they should walk up and down their own streets and ask how many truly historical businesses there are," Michels said. "What's historical about T-shirts? Where's the historical value in a Harley Davidson shop? They're being prejudiced. In Virginia City they have their own way of doing things, but they should be made to follow the rules."

Michels said he ran into trouble when he applied for a Storey County license and a staff member would not take his $140 application fee.

"The gal tells me that she doesn't want to take money because I may not be approved," he said.

According to Michels, there are no health regulations governing tattoo businesses outside of Washoe, Clark and Carson counties.

For Commissioner Chuck Haynes, that's a good reason not to allow one.

"Above the fact that many here are in opposition, Storey County has no health department to regulate the business," Haynes said. "That leaves a potential for health concerns."

The primary health risk is the potential for spreading infectious diseases from dirty needles if sterile conditions are not maintained, which Michels said is easily avoided by modern sterile techniques.

Michels learned about sterile technique during a two-year stint as a medic in the U.S. Army. All needles are sterile and used only once, he said, and he uses a special autoclave technique for his equipment.

An art major in college, he has either owned or co-owned shops with partner Oki and said there has never been a problem in his parlor.

"We wear gloves and we don't contaminate," he said. "I take measures no one else does. We treat everyone like they're dirty."

Michels said he could have his tattoo parlor up and running in about a week, if he's given the nod. He expressed frustration at what he sees as an unnecessary delay.

"I encouraged them (Storey County officials) to come see my three shops in Reno, but it went right over their heads like they didn't even hear," Michels said. "I'll be there Tuesday with my attorney."

Concerning the proximity of the parlor to local schools, Michels said it's against the law to tattoo minors. He understands parlors have a rough reputation historically, but that's a stigma from the past.

"We don't solicit anyone," he said. "People come in on their own, now that they can actually walk into a tattoo studio without getting beat up. Now we have nice people and families coming in. Tattoos aren't cheap. I charge $150 an hour."

Who: Storey County commissioners

When: 10 a.m. today

Where: District courtroom, Storey County Courthouse


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