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Tattoo parlor set to open in downtown Farmington

James Fenton
jfenton@daily-times.com
From left, artist Bryant Ramirez, apprentice Zachary Billey, shop manager Orlando Gonzales, owners Josh "Eon" Johnson, Heather "Big H" Alexander and their daughter Laila Jean Johnson stand for a portrait on Feb. 19 at Mr. Tank's Tattoo, 115 E. Main St. in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A couple that launched a successful tattoo shop in 2008 in Denver is now expanding its permanent-ink artistry to this city's downtown area.

Josh "Eon" Johnson and Heather Alexander plan to open a new tattoo parlor, "Mr. Tank's Tattoos," on East Main Street next door to Three Rivers Brewery on March 26.

Johnson, 35, said that he and Alexander will continue to operate the Denver Mr. Tank's but the potential for spreading their love of inked flesh made Farmington a natural choice for a second location.

They say they have traveled with their four-year-old daughter to the Farmington area every few months or so in between trips across the country as Eon Johnson plies his trade at eight to 10 tattoo conventions each year.

"I stay busy out here," Johnson said. "There's nothing to do but work and that's what I'm out here to do."

He said he has four local tattoo artists who will work in the shop, which has four booths.

Shop manager Orlando Gonzales shows off his tattoos on Feb. 19 at Mr. Tank's Tattoo at 115 E. Main St. in Farmington.

Johnson said many tattoo artists — hailing from Alabama, Oklahoma, Orange County, Calif., and other cities around the country — who he has met at conventions are being lined up to work at Mr. Tank's during a temporary stay of a week or more, he said.

Alexander, who oversees their family business, said that Johnson's success is a testament to his talents with a tattooing needle, paint brush or other media. Denver has more than 200 tattoo parlors, they said, which means becoming a mainstay in the Mile High City is not based merely on luck.

"It's his talent," she said, laughing. "I'm his number-one fan. I'll admit that, but his work stands for itself."

Opening a tattoo shop in San Juan County wasn't easy, but not because of the travel time between Denver and Farmington. The couple said they both looked at more than 12 possible locations to open their business' doors in Farmington, but each time, the property owners balked at the idea of a tattoo shop starting up on their property.

Not so with their new landlord at their new location in the city's downtown.

Bernie Digman's family property company, Digman Properties, leased the storefront to Johnson and Alexander and said he sees nothing wrong with a tattoo business, especially if it helps the downtown business corridor thrive.

"As long as they are a legal business and there is a considerable amount of background checks with licensing with the Department of Health and the city, then it's fine with us," Digman said. "(Tattoo artists) are quite regulated as it is. As long as they are complying with the standards of he community and the surrounding business then we don’t have any issue with their business."

Digman, who currently lives in Las Cruces, grew up in Farmington. He owns and runs a coffee house and bakery steps from the New Mexico State University campus that also offers tattoos.

"My 15 employees are for the most part students and highly motivated, mostly young people and many of them like tattoos," Digman said. "I have no tattoos and I’m decades older. But for 18 years I have understood that young clientele like the tattoo stuff and we’re comfortable with it. I understand that not all people are necessarily comfortable with it, but they are a legal business and if that draws folks downtown and increases foot traffic, it's probably a useful thing."

From left, Bryant Ramirez, Heather "Big H" Alexander, Orlando Gonzales and  Zachary Billey talk during an interview on Feb. 19 at Mr. Tank's Tattoo, 115 E. Main St. in Farmington.

In the 1970s, he ran a counter-culture store in downtown with his brother, across the street from where Mr. Tank's is now, called the Poster Shop.

"The business my brother and I opened was a head shop," he said. "We sold posters, water beds, smoking pipes, rolling papers, rock albums, beads, candles, incense — that kind of stuff. I do have sympathy for that sort of counter culture. Dare say there were some people in positions of power who are upstanding wonderful business people who used to come in regularly."

Digman said he wishes Johnson and Alexander the best of luck and hopes their business adds to the attractions downtown.

"Small business people have a hard enough time surviving when things are great, so I’m very sympathetic for young people following their passions when times aren't so hot," he said.

Alexander said the parlor will try to support the downtown district's growing art community by hosting multimedia arts shows in the tattoo shop. Some of the artists' work will be for sale and by tattoo artists. Other planned exhibitions will feature artwork from people locally and nationally who may have no direct connection to the tattoo industry. For now, Alexander said they plan to keep it simple and see where it goes.

But opening a tattoo shop in a county that has only a handful of options for inking and piercing services seems like a smart move to the couple.

"People don't have enough options locally for different tattoo artists," Alexander said. "We saw a promising business opportunity here and we are going to go for it. That's why we have a concept going with tattoo artists rotating through. If you want to find someone new to do your work, Mr. Tanks is always housing new artists."

The couple said the tattoo parlor will hold a grand opening party on the first day of business with barbecue and a raffle for free tattoos.

Greg Knuppel used to own and operate The Pierced Buddha tattoo and body piercing studio in Aztec. After more than a dozen years tattooing there, he shuttered the business in 2014 and went to work along side his wife, Cindy Knuppel, as a lab technician at their family's optics business, Shades-N-Specs Optical, in Flora Vista.

Not that Knuppel ever gave up dreams of returning to tattooing entirely.

He said he learned about Mr. Tank's after some friends of his got tattoos from Johnson. He admired the work and, when Johnson was in town, got a portrait of his daughters on his leg and one of his wife across his rib cage.

Now, Knuppel said he will tattoo in Johnson's shop part-time. Time constraints helping home-school their kids and working at their optics business keeps him busy, but he will find some time to carve out of his schedule to take appointments at Johnson's new parlor.

" I never want to give up my tattooing completely. And Josh is a real cool dude," Knuppel said. "He started at the bottom like me and has proven himself. He's got that natural, street-artist talent. He's really good."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

More info

What: Mr. Tank's Tattoos

Where: 115 E. Main St. in Farmington

When:  The business is scheduled to open March 26

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday

More info: Write to mrtankstattoos@gmail.com or go to Mr. Tank's Facebook page