"The soldiers, they can walk here," says Mike Stone, the manager of A-Z Masters 2 Tattooing & Piercing.
But no soldiers have walked here for a long time, he adds, looking through the window pane of his shop's storefront to the barren parking lot beyond. Business is slow, an assessment that similarly rings true for the other two parlors in the B Street commercial area. Been that way ever since Iraq.
"Seventy percent of your business is military," says Jon Boy Elliot, owner of Top Notch Tattoo, the closest shop to the Fort Carson post. "When they're not here, you're dead."
"We're dying," he says, and it's tough not to believe him. Only employees occupy his parlor.
When the troops return, so will the business, Elliot says. And when the Fort Carson expansion that they've so eagerly anticipated finally comes, maybe things will boom.
But the business, the artists say, is changing, at least in the way it plays out on the bodies of the soldiers they service. Artists no longer are drawing the standard skull and bones and mythical creatures of years past.
"It's been more patriotic," says Lionel Stepp of Awesome Ink. "It has been that."
And, say artists from each of these parlors, there has been a recent spike in religious drawings crosses, religious figures and even entire scriptures. There has also been an increase in art dedicated to the memory of fallen friends overseas.
"They want to stick it on their forearm," Stepp says. "I try to talk them out of that."
Stepp says he doesn't want his customers, later in life, to regret such a prominent display of their current passion. It's not like these are smallish tattoos of an ex-girlfriend's name; large-scale drawings of gravestones and cemeteries are harder to remove.
When the Fort Carson expansion hits full stride, business will increase, the tattooists say. And so will, they predict, the number of patriotic, religious and death-related jobs. It's just a part of the military tattoo culture during times of war.
"When they leave, it's, 'I want to kill 'em all,''" Stepp says. "They come back a lot more humble."
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