"They went from west to east across the northern part of the state," says Bill Hannong, recalling how investigators from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) swept through tattoo shops in the Panhandle in an unprecedented crackdown in 1991.

Back then, the law stipulated that all parlors be under the "direct supervision" of a physician, with little guidance on what that term actually meant. Hannong, who runs Cadillac Tattoo Studio in Fort Myers, explains, "The state had allowed each county to interpret ["direct supervision"] how they wanted. But DBPR decided that was not what they wanted, so they started closing studios for not having a doctor on premises. When that started happening, a few of us got together and discussed what we needed to do to survive the onslaught." Hannong helped found and also became president of the Florida Professional Tattoo Artist Guild.

The guild succeeded in getting the language of the law changed from "direct supervision" to "general supervision," though legislators warned that a specific body of laws for the industry would be needed in the future. Under general supervision, shops got by without much hassle: a yearly visit from a physician and the occasional county health inspection to make sure biomedical waste was being disposed of in a proper manner.

A high-end, home-based tattoo studio attached to a garage in Hialeah Gardens.
Chris Sweeney
A high-end, home-based tattoo studio attached to a garage in Hialeah Gardens.

"Getting the word changed from direct to general allowed the industry to take off and run," says Hannong, who estimates there were only 40 or so tattoo shops in all of Florida when the guild was formed. The industry did run, wildly. The change to the law coincided with a surge in the popularity of tattoos and piercings. In the early '90s, graphic designers and art-school kids stepped into the world of body modification, but so did those who cared less about the craft and more about making a quick buck. There seemed to be a shop opening in every neighborhood. Artists posted up in flea markets and along boardwalks, pulling in locals and tourists.

The Department of Health says that as of February 2012, there were 1,196 tattoo and piercing shops in Florida, based on the number of biomedical waste permits it has issued. The spectrum ranges from high-end shops such as Love Hate Tattoo Studio — made famous by the show Miami Ink — where an employee was recently overheard quoting a German tourist $550 for a tattoo of a flower that would take about an hour to complete, to low-end shops like Ink Obsessions Mia in downtown Miami, which offers deals such as $100 half sleeves. You can find shops that sell bongs, trashy T-shirts, and tattoos all in one, or jump on Craigslist and hire a mobile artist who'll set up shop in your kitchen.

"The segments of the pie have gotten smaller," Hannong says. "But because the customer base has increased, it's not a total wash... The economy, now that's forced us to look at our expenses, our overheads, where we can cut costs and not decrease the value of what we're selling. It made us rethink a lot of our stuff and made us become better businesspeople. "

Despite the boom, the tattoo industry remained largely regulation-free until 2009. That's when, according to urban legend, Hollywood state Sen. Eleanor Sobel spotted a hideous tramp stamp on the back of a teenager. Sobel doesn't deny or confirm the story but says in an email that she was "very concerned about minors getting tattoos." To address the lack of oversight and finally create stand-alone laws for the industry, she turned to Palm Beach Rep. Mary Brandenburg and Hannong's tattoo guild and, with their input, drafted a bill.

Fort Lauderdale tattoo artist Stevie Moon went berserk when he laid eyes on the proposal.

"After so many years of being unified together, [the guild] probably thought they were the last fucking word of tattooing in Florida," Moon rants. "The guild was literally diving headfirst into a black mamba pit... They were about to fuck everyone in the state who wanted to make a living tattooing."

Moon is slouched behind a wooden table at his shop, Stevie Moon Tattoo, in Wilton Manors. His thoroughly inked arms burst from a short-sleeved white polo, and his balding head reflects the yellow light from the industrial-style ceiling lamps. It's too early in the morning for the hum of tattoo machines and small talk to drown out his grating hybrid of Baltimore and New England accents.

Moon spent his formative years in Boston when the city enforced a strict ban on the entire trade. He says the concept of labeling some tattoo artists as mere "scratchers" developed in the early '90s. It was just a way for established artists to stop competitors from breaking into the industry and has been used for fear-mongering ever since, Moon says.

"Back in the '90s, it became very popular for some famous artist to say, 'I support this tattoo supply company, and I support them because they will not sell to scratchers.' The premise of it was: 'Don't support people who aren't doing it right,' and they were hiding under this guise that they were so fucking concerned about public health," Moon says. "It was bullshit. The real reason was: 'Don't support anyone that fucking didn't get an apprenticeship because tattooing is already full and we don't want anyone else coming in.' Everybody was afraid for their fucking pocketbook."

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They kill themselves.I wanted a spiderweb on my elbow and they wanted $360.00 bucks.BS.That kind of money for a few lines is thievery.They all are bandids.They should all be driven out of the busiuness.In fact tattooing should be made illegal.AsI said they re all hoods.

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