Where would you rather eat? 

click to enlarge Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand
  • Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand

I recently moved to Colorado Springs to escape some of the economic and social downward spiraling of what we lovingly called the "Rust Belt" upstate New York. So imagine my shock in hearing that El Paso County is "broke." Shock because taxpayers continue to fork over 30 percent or so of each paycheck and also pay 7.4 percent sales tax on everything they buy (which, to me, is double taxation, no matter how you look at it).

An obvious question: Where does all the money go?

Recently, volunteers for the county's nature centers, faced with complete elimination of any paycheck whatsoever, raised more than $85,000 in order to continue their own salaries for the coming year. As ludicrous as that seems, the El Paso County Health Department now threatens to stop all health inspections of tattoo shops and restaurants.

Not everyone gets a tattoo every day, but I'm pretty certain all the citizens of this county eat out at least once a week. Where is the concern?

I've attended several meetings in the past few months wherein more than 20 tattoo shops came together to protest this dangerous, foolish development. I learned the county needs to raise only $8,900 (approximately 10 percent of what the nature center volunteers were able to raise) to maintain inspections of the 50 or so tattoo shops in El Paso County.

Tattooing has always been a self-regulating industry. As a 37-year veteran, I've never worked without complete sterilization and hospital-style protocols. Tattoo artists are the ultimate outsiders; we've adopted and adapted our own rules to maintain public safety. Not all shops adhere, obviously, but the core group could pass any medical test and we do, annually, state to state.

We often have to teach health inspectors how to properly inspect our studios. But we do this because we care. State-of-the-art tattoo artists want mandated inspections for several reasons. People need assurance that their chosen shop is compliant with local regulations. We also could be blackballed by the military (a significant percentage of local shops' business) if it has concerns about any shop's standards.

Let's not forget that tattooing is, at its heart, a medical procedure. The skin is ruptured; the body is invaded; blood is present. Fatal diseases can be transmitted without proper protection.

Many people have a strong bias against tattooing. They say if people choose to defile their own bodies, they deserve what they get. It's an old argument; some even look to the Old Testament for justification. It is not my intention to argue pros or cons. However, one would have to be ignorant not to realize that damage from an unsafe shop reverberates throughout the family and community.

Regardless, one important point is being overlooked as the spotlight of this argument focuses solely on tattoo shops: This discontinuation of health inspections will apply to all restaurants and eateries across the Front Range as well.

According to John Suits, county board of health president, local restaurants will be inspected by state health officials once a year or (gasp!) every two years.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Think about it: How often do you get a tattoo? How many times a year do you eat out?

Where is the public outcry? Where is a coalition of restaurant owners filling the auditorium to protest discontinuation of health inspections?

Every tattoo studio that cares (we know who they are) has donated $200 to $500 per shop to continue the inspection process. But the money sits dormant until the full $8,900 is raised. Hopefully we can come up with the rest otherwise our entire industry in Colorado Springs will suffer.

Why won't restaurants make the same kind of effort? They don't welcome health inspectors as tattoo shop owners do. At this point, I'd rather eat at a tattoo shop than at a local diner. Chew on that awhile.

If tattoo artists a group of true mavericks and free individualists can bond to fight for regular inspections, surely the food-industry folks can put their money where their mouths are.

Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand works at Pikes Peak Tattoo, 902 N. Circle Drive, #201. Contact her at dameoftheworld@aol.com.


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