Rocky Sims got his first tattoo when he was 17 years old. He bought a do-it-yourself kit. He immediately fell in love with the ancient art of tattooing.
Even at that young age, he’d long been drawn to artistic pursuits – painting, drawing, charcoal work and airbrushing. Yet, once Sims discovered body art, he started down the path that has led him to the point of opening his own shop. He’d like to do so in Marion, the town where he spent many of his formative years.
Of Marion, Sims said, “It doesn’t let people go.” He also observed that the town is growing and possesses a strong presence of college students studying at Emory & Henry’s School of Health Sciences. The closest tattoo shops operate in Glade Spring and Wytheville. “Now,” he said, “is the time to open.”
Sims has followed a professional path. He apprenticed at Wythe Ink, now Lucky U Tattoo, for nine years. He’s certified in all the state-required training that includes first aid, CPR, and the like, and he’s earned a professional tattoo artist’s license from the commonwealth.
While the process has featured multiple steps, Sims is OK with it. “I appreciate every step I’ve had to go through. It makes me humble,” he said during a recent interview.
When asked how many tattoos he done over the years, Sims shook his head and indicated he had no idea, and then after a pause, added, “thousands upon thousands.”
Many days, Sims, who now works at Wolfman Tattoos and Piercings in Princeton, W.Va., said, he’ll do 12 to 17 tattoos a day.
From the beginner 17-year-old to the budding entrepreneur that he is today, Sims credited the progression of tattooing and its acceptance in society as keeping him motivated. Early on, he said, many people associated tattoos with convicts, drugs, and troublemakers, but, in the last decade, Sims said he’s tattooed nurses, doctors, lawyers, and police officers. He’s tattooed older teens eager to get their first tattoo because it’s cool to folks well into their senior years who want to memorialize a special person, pet or achievement.
Those memorial tattoos often bring hugs and tears when they’re complete, Sims said. He loves “the reaction you get when you’re done.”
His passion for the work runs so deep, Sims said, “If I was rich, I’d do it for free.”
Still, the father of three daughters ages 16, 12, and 9 knows the value of a paycheck. He wants to operate his own business, which he hopes to name Beauty & the Beast Tattoos and Permanent Makeup.
Sims has more than a few supporters. At a recent meeting of the Marion Planning Commission, he presented an online change.org petition in support of his tattoo shop that now boasts slightly less than 600 signatures.
In addition to local patrons, Sims said he expects a number of regular out-of-state customers would use his Marion shop, spending money locally on lodging, meals and other services.
Over time, he’d like to take on an apprentice and grow the shop. From the start, he plans to work with Melanie Barrett, who would offer permanent cosmetics through the business. She currently works in a shop on the Iron Street Mall.
For all Sims’ plans opening a tattoo shop in Marion isn’t currently easy.
The town has been home to tattoo shops in the past that drew negative attention, including staffers facing criminal charges, and ultimately failed as businesses.
After they closed, the town council added tattoo shops to its list of adult uses in the town code, which includes adult book and video stores, establishments for fortunetellers, palm readers, and mystics, and body-piercing salons among others.
The town code says, “…It is acknowledged that there are some uses that are deemed as having very serious objectionable characteristics because of their very nature, that become more objectionable when located next to residential neighborhoods, boarding houses, bed and breakfast, motels and or hotels, and therefore require special regulations to ensure that said areas do not become blighted or downgraded because of the location of said businesses. The purpose of preventing the concentration or location of said uses is to ensure that such adverse effects are avoided.”